The flawed opposition to reasonable gun safety regulations

Bob Sheak, June 1, 2022

bsheak983@gmail.com

The present post builds on and updates my analysis in a post that was circulated back on March 14, 2018 (https://wordpress.com/post.vitalissues-bobsheak.com/11).

An argument for reasonable gun restrictions rests most fundamentally on the premises that the ownership of guns should be regulated, and that gun ownership is not an absolute, unlimited right of citizenship. Thomas Gabor, who has studied gun violence and policy for over 30 years in the United States and other countries, concludes that we need to find a “delicate balance” between ownership/access and regulation. He states his position, along with other reasons, writing that “[g]un ownership can be a right while every effort is made to ensure that those who pose a risk to public safety cannot easily obtain them” (Confronting Gun Violence in America, p. 32).

Reasonable regulations would, for example, include the requirement that gun purchasers must have and pass a universal background check before they can purchase a weapon. Another regulation: Firearms must be registered and gunowners must have a license.

Reasonable regulations additionally would include the banning of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. The Brady United website offers this definition: “An ‘assault weapon’ refers to a semi-automatic gun designed for military use and quick, efficient killing. Assault weapons are uniquely lethal because of their rapid rate of fire and high muzzle velocity — coupled with high-capacity magazines, which attach to an assault weapon to allow dozens of gunshots without needing to reload. A high-capacity magazine is typically defined as any magazine or drum that is capable of holding more than either 10 or 15 rounds of ammunition” (https://bradyunited.org/fact-sheets/what-are-assault-weapons-and-high-capacity-magazines).

Reasonable regulations would ban open-carry laws that allow individuals to carry their weapons visibly in public. Reasonable regulations would emphasize the need to secure schools, without arming teachers.

Part 1: the grim gun situation in the U.S.

Gabor’s position would only be considered radical by the NRA, weapons’ makers, the Republican Party, and the millions in Trump’s base who oppose any gun regulation. There is an enormous lobbying effort nationally and in the states against any gun regulation. Robin Lloyd, managing director of the gun violence prevention organization Giffords, provides a glimpse of this powerful, right-wing lobbying effort in an interview on Democracy Now (https://www.democracynow.org/2022/5/26/uvalde_texas_robb_elementary_school_gun).

“The American gun lobby, which is supported by American gun manufacturers, is alive and well. The National Rifle Association, the NRA, has been weakened due to self-inflicted wounds of greed and mismanagement of funds. But other organizations, like the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which is the lobbying arm for the gun industry and gun retailers, is alive and well. And actually, the National Shooting Sports Foundation spends more on lobbying against gun violence prevention measures here in Washington than the NRA does. So, they’re the true face of the American corporate gun lobby. And quite frankly, there’s a lot of money at stake. There has been an incredible surge of gun sales in the past decade, largely driven by fear and conspiracy promulgated by the corporate gun lobby here in the United States, and that has meant an incredible increase in their bottom line.”

Opposition from the Right against any gun regulation

For decades, since the early 1970s, opponents of gun regulation, most prominently the National Rifle Association (NRA), the National Shooting Sports Foundation, weapons producers and their army of lobbyists have used their political influence in the Republican Party to promote a one-sided interpretation of the Second Amendment. They want to keep government at all levels from regulating gun ownership. On this point, Gabor captures the uncompromising position of the NRA and its allies as follows: “…those viewing gun ownership as an inalienable right often see this right as an absolute and will yield little ground regardless of the annual death toll or other evidence pointing to the harm produced by widespread gun ownership” (p. 263).

New York Times reporter Greg Weiner illustrates this retrograde viewpoint, reporting on a speech given by Wayne LaPierre, leader of the NRA, at the [2018] Conservative Political Action Conference. Here’s some of what Weiner reports.

“According to this conception, rights are zones of personal autonomy where the individual owes no explanation and the community has no jurisdiction. This manner of thinking about rights is a serious barrier to reasonable regulations of firearms. The N.R.A. ritually claims the mantle of the Constitution, but the American founders who framed it had a far richer view in which individual rights were subject to considerations of the common good.” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/28/opinion/wayne-lapierres-unconstitutionalism.html?_r=0.ab).

Brian Schwartz reports on May 27, 2022, for CNBC that the National Rifle Association’s lobbying machine is still potent and that it continues to support an absolutist anti-regulation position on ownership and access to guns, including unregulated access to semi-automatic and automatic guns made for war (https://cnbc.com/2022/05/27/nra-holds-convention-has-lobbying-cash-after-texas-school-shooting.html). He writes, for example:

“The group has spread its messaging widely in recent days. The NRA’s Facebook ads, which was launched last week [third week of May, 2022], are still active, according to the social media giant’s ad library. One of the active NRA ads has a picture of Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, with a message of “Don’t let them take your guns.”

The ad “leads viewers to an online petition to Congress that reads, in part, ‘I demand that Congress vote down every bill, every treaty, every resolution, and every amendment that would infringe upon my Second Amendment rights in any way.’”

Of course, Trump pushes for maximum gun rights to please a major segment of his electoral base. Kelly Hopper reports on Trump’s address on May 27, 2022, to “the National Rifle Association’s annual conference in Houston, slamming Democrats for their positions on gun control and pointing to mental health as the root cause of mass shootings just three days after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at a Texas elementary school” (https://politico.com/news/2022/05/27/trump-gun-rights-nra-speech-uvalde-shotting-00035836). According to Hopper,

“The former president invoked Second Amendment rights several times and stated that ‘evil’ is the reason to arm citizens. He stressed the importance of added school security measures such as metal detectors and arming teachers, and said teachers have to be ‘able to handle’ an active shooter situation.”

The U.S. is unique in the world with respect to widespread gun ownership

Chris Hedges brings our attention to one of the ugly facts about gun ownership in the United State, that is, the country is loaded with a massive number of guns, far more than any other country, and yet, rather than curtail violence, the pervasive availability of guns of all kinds seem to aid and abet it (https://www.truthdig.com/articles/guns-and-liberty).

Laurel Wamsley provides the following facts on the sadly unique international U.S. position on gun ownership (https://npr.org/2022/05/28/1101307932/texas-shooting-uvalde-gun-violence-children-teenagers). She notes:

“When the total number of firearm deaths are counted, the U.S. ranks second in the world, after only Brazil, according to a study using data from 2016.

“One factor in America’s high level of gun deaths is the massive number of guns in the country: Civilians in the U.S. own an estimated 393 million firearms, according to a 2018 study by the Small Arms Survey [now over 400 million]. That’s nearly 46% of the estimated 857 million civilian-held firearms in the world. That’s a striking proportion, when the U.S. has just 4% of the world’s population.”

In the U.S., kids are more likely to die from gun violence than in other wealthy countries, according to Wamsley’s sources.

“For years, researchers at the University of San Francisco and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health have compared the rates of firearm deaths in the U.S. and other populous, high-income countries — mostly nations in Europe.

Their most recent study, which looks at data from 2015, finds that the U.S. accounts for the vast majority of firearm deaths among children. Across the 29 countries in the study, the U.S. accounted for almost 97% of the firearm deaths among children 4 years old or younger, and 92% of firearm deaths for those between the ages of 5 and 14.

“And over time, the U.S. is accounting for an ever-larger share of people killed by guns in these countries. The U.S. firearm death rate increased nearly 10% between 2003 and 2015, even as it fell in other high-income countries.”

The numbers of gun-related deaths and physical and psychological injuries are climbing

“Five years ago, just under 4,000 children and teens up to the age of 17 were killed or injured by gun violence, according to the Gun Violence Archive. By the end of last year, that number was up 43% to 5,692. Some 1,560 of these children and teenagers died.

“So far in 2022, at least 653 children and teens in the U.S. have been killed by guns. Another 1,609 children and teens have been injured by firearms, according to the archive.

“The highest rates for gun-related deaths, according to an analysis by the National Safety Council, are among people ages 15 to 34.”

Journalists at the Washington Post have “spent years tracking how many children have been exposed to gun violence during school hours since the Columbine High massacre in 1999. The facts have been updated, as of May 24, 2022 (https://washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/local/school-shooting-database/?itid=hp-banner-main). They report:

“Beyond the dead and wounded, children who witness the violence or cower behind locked doors to hide from it can be profoundly traumatized.

“The federal government does not track school shootings, so The Post pieced together its numbers from news articles, open-source databases, law enforcement reports and calls to schools and police departments.

“While school shootings remain rare, there were more in 2021 — 42 — than in any year since at least 1999. So far this year, there have been at least 24 acts of gun violence on K-12 campuses during the school day.

“The count now stands at more than 311,000 children at 331 schools have been killed, wounded, or exposed to school shootings.

“The Post has found that at least 185 children, educators and other people have been killed in assaults, and another 369 have been injured.”

Additional evidence on mass killings

In April 1999, the country was stunned by the mass killing of 13 students and teachers at Columbine High School in Colorado by two students, who then committed suicide. In the course of the past 20 years, eruptions of homicidal violence have become almost commonplace, and the death tolls resulting from such incidents have in many cases far exceeded the terrible loss of life at Columbine. The 2017 attack in Las Vegas resulted in 58 deaths. The 2016 attack at the Pulse nightclub in Florida left 49 dead. The 2014 shooting in San Bernardino cost the lives of 14 people. The 2012 assault at Sandy Hook Elementary School claimed 28 lives. The attack on an audience at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, also in 2012, took 12 lives. The shooting at the Fort Hood Army base in 2009 resulted in 13 deaths.”

“The killings are not only deadlier than in 1999. Such incidents occur much more frequently. Mass killings involving more than four deaths take place every 16 days in the US, 10 times more frequently than in the period between 1982 and 2011, when the average time between mass killings was 200 days.”

The editors at Education Week provide an update, as follows

“There have been 27 school shootings this year (2022]. There have been 119 school shootings since 2018, when Education Week began tracking such incidents. The highest number of shootings, 34, occurred last year. There were 10 shootings in 2020, and 24 each in 2019 and 2018 (https://www.edweek.org/leadership/school-shootings-this-year-how-many-and-where/2022/01). They also refer to the most recent school murders.

“On May 24, 19 children and two adults were killed and 16 injured in a shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. It was the deadliest school shooting since 2012, when a gunman shot and killed 26 people as young as 6 years old at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Fatalities exceeded those in the 2018 attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., which left 17 dead.”

Part 2: Rebutting right-wing rationales for non-regulation of guns:

(1) that the Second Amendment legitimates unfettered gun ownership, access, and where guns can be carried; (2) that a right-wing U.S. Supreme Court should have the final word in ruling on constitutional issues; (3) that gun regulation, if any, should be left in the hands of state officials; (4) that mass shootings are carried out only or mostly by those with mental illness; (5) that teachers should be armed to protect themselves and the children.

#1 – The Second Amendment of the Constitution does not mean absolute and unregulated gun ownership

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” (https://law.cornell.edu/wex/second_amendment).

There are two parts of the Second Amendment.

Those who want more gun regulation put their emphasis on the opening phrase of the Second Amendment that refers to “a well-regulated militia.” This phrase suggests that the federal or state governments should play the major role in determining who can own guns. The implication is that regulation of guns for private ownership is not about individual rights but about rules that aim to provide collective security and what is in the common good.

Those who want little or no gun regulation focus on the second part of the Amendment, that is, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” From the perspective of the contemporary National Rifle Association and other unbridled gun supporters all regulation is anathema and as threats to the most fundamental “freedom” of Americans. The Legal Information Institute adds, “some believe that the Amendment’s phrase ‘the right of the people to keep and bear Arms’ creates an individual constitutional right to possess firearms. Under this ‘individual right theory,’ the United States Constitution restricts legislative bodies from prohibiting firearm possession, or at the very least, the Amendment renders prohibitory and restrictive regulation presumptively unconstitutional.

What does the historical record indicate? Through most of US history up through the end of the 20th Century, the courts have found that, as John Atcheson reports, the introductory phrase “a well-regulated militia” constrains, or takes precedence over, the clause ‘the right of the people to keep and bear arms” (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2018/02/24/no-founding-fathers-didnt-give-you-right-to-bear-arms).

Atcheson puts it this way: “In short, the individual ‘right’ was contingent on the need to keep a well-regulated militia, and hence it protected the States’ interests in having a militia, not an individual’s right to have and carry a weapon.”

Gabor (cited previously) refers to supporting evidence. He writes:

“In four Supreme Court rulings between 1876 and 1939 and in 37 cases involving challenges to gun laws heard by federal courts of appeal between 1942 and 2001, the courts have consistently set aside these challenges and have viewed the Second Amendment as protecting state militias, rather than individual rights. Thus, with little exception, the first 125 years of ruling by higher courts interpreted the Second Amendment to mean that ‘The people’ collectively have the right to bear arms within the context of a well-regulated militia, rather than for protection against fellow citizens or for other personal reasons. This view of the Second Amendment is consistent with the requirement, in America’s first Constitution, that each state maintain a militia and with the modern Constitution, which provides for both state militias and a standing army” (p. 266).

The official state militias have been long ago abandoned. Nonetheless the point is, for most of U.S. history, individual rights to firearms were regulated and limited. Gabor also quotes several Supreme Court justices who expressed support for the “militia” preeminence interpretation of the Second Amendment. For example, former chief justice Warren Burger, “a conservative and hunter himself, said in an interview in 1991 on the MacNeill Lehrer News Hour that the focus on the “right to keep and bear arms” has “been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud…on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime” (Gabor, p. 266). As noted above, the interest group he has in mind is the NRA and its increasingly intense efforts to end virtually all restrictions on gun ownership by private citizens.

Remarkably, given the power of the NRA and the pro-gun lobbies, President Clinton signed a 1994 law banning the manufacture and sale of new assault weapons and high-capacity magazines (holding more than ten rounds of ammunition) – and it remained in in force for ten years until 2004, according to Gabor. The ban was allowed to expire by the US Congress in 2004. Even during the years of the ban, though, the law had loopholes. There were “grandfathering provisions” that “allowed weapons and high-capacity magazines already manufactured to continue to be bought and sold, severely undercutting the effectiveness of the ban” (Gabor, pp. 292-293). In short, Clinton’s ban on assault weapons had at best only very modest effects on reducing violence associated with guns, even from assault weapons. But, even with its flaws, the ban did have some modest, positive effect. In as assessment of the effects of the ban, Christopher Koper, associate professor at George Mason University, writes:

“Although the ban has been successful in reducing crimes with AWs [Assault Weapons], any benefits from this reduction are likely to have been outweighed by steady or rising use of non-banned semiautomatics with LCMs [large-capacity magazines], which are used in crime much more frequently than AWs. Therefore, we cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation’s recent drop in gun violence [as of 2013]. And, indeed, there has been no discernible reduction in the lethality and injuriousness of gun violence, based on indicators like the percentage of gun crimes resulting in death or the share of gunfire incidents resulting in injury, as we might have expected had the ban reduced crimes with both AWs and LCMs” (https://www.factcheck.org/2013/02/did-the-1994-assault-ban-work).

Nonetheless, it is worth emphasizing again that through most of U.S. history there have been federal laws in effect to limit the gun ownership of private citizens, other than for hunting, conservation, certified gun collections (where the guns are inoperable) and sports-related activities, and that the temporary assault ban did have some positive effect. Though it should also be mentioned that the ban did not close other ways by which individual can acquire guns. In addition to the grandfathering loophole and the parts of the gun market that were not covered by the ban, guns could be obtained through private sales (e.g., now through the internet) and at gun shows, both of which remain unregulated. Of course, there has always been an illegal market for guns. George Aisch and Josh Keller report on one aspect of this illegal gun market in their article “Traffikers Get Around State Laws (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/11/12/us/gun-traffikers-smuggling-state-gun-laws.html). At the same time, Gabor presents evidence that such bans can have some positive effect (pp. 292-293).

#2 – The Supreme Court has evolved into a pro-gun arbiter

The Supreme Court began to shift on gun rights in 2008 in the case District of Columbia v. Heller, a decision in which the court ruled 5-4 “that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm for traditionally lawful purposes (e.g., self-defense within the home) in federal enclaves (jurisdictions)” (Gabor, p. 267). However, this decision did not affirm anything like an absolute right to gun ownership. Gabor interprets what the court had in mind.

“Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms” (Gabor, 267-268).

The upshot is that, even in recent years, federal law remained at odds with the NRA’s absolutist stance. This may change in favor of the anti-regulation position, as the Supreme Court has move further to the right with Trump’s appointments of Neil Gorsuch on February 1, 2017, Brett Kavanaugh on July 10, 2018, and Amy Coney Barrett on September 29, 2020, combined with the 3 conservative justices already on the 9-person court, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Chief Justice John Roberts. 

In an article for CNN Politics, Ariane de Vogue quotes Adam Winkler, a professor of Law at UCLA School of Law, who said this about Gorsuch: Although Gorsuch’s exact views on the Second Amendment remain a mystery, several of his decisions made it harder to keep guns out of the hands of felons.  (https://www.cnn.com/2017/03/20/politics/neil-gorsuch-abortion-religious-liberty-enviornment-guns-control/index.html).

Even before Gorsuch, the Supreme Court, with its conservative majority, began to expand the rights associated with gun ownership.

Veronica Rose, chief analyst at the Office of Legislative Research for the state of Connecticut, provides a summary of a Supreme Court decision that was made after District of Columbia v. Heller (2008). Rose summarizes the McDonald v. Chicago 5-4 decision in 2010, the thrust of which is that the individual states have the right to pass laws that give individual’s the right to keep and bear firearms for lawful uses such as self-defense in one’s home (https://www.cga.ct.gov/2010/rpt/2010-R-0314.htm). Notice the words “such as” open the opportunity of states to expand the rights of gun ownership in any number of ways. Here I’ll quote some key paragraphs from Rose’s account.

“In a five-four split decision, the McDonald Court held that an individual’s right to keep and bear arms is incorporated and applicable to the states through the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause. Writing for the majority, Justice Alito observed: “It is clear that the Framers and ratifiers of the Fourteenth Amendment counted the right to keep and bear arms among those fundamental rights necessary to our system of ordered liberty” (p. 31). “The Fourteenth Amendment makes the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms fully applicable to the States.” In a separate concurring opinion, Justice Thomas wrote that the 2nd Amendment is fully applicable to states because the right to keep and bear arms is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment as a privilege of American citizenship.

“The Court did not rule on the constitutionality of the gun ban, deciding instead to reverse and remand the case for additional proceedings. However, the court’s decision on the 2nd Amendment makes it clear that such bans are unconstitutional. But, as it held in Heller, the Court reiterated in McDonald that the 2nd Amendment only protects a right to possess a firearm in the home for lawful uses such as self-defense. It stressed that some firearm regulation is constitutionally permissible and the 2nd Amendment right to possess firearms is not unlimited. It does not guarantee a right to possess any firearm, anywhere, and for any purpose.”

Note also that the court decisions employ vague words (“such as”) that open a wide range of undefined circumstances under which citizens have a legal right to purchase and own weapons, all sorts of weapons. The McDonald decision invokes the Fourteenth Amendment and in context in which lends support to the guns’ rights position. The relevant provision of the Fourteenth Amendment, Section 1, states “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.” This is another one of the laws that can be interpreted and applied in several ways but which a conservative court is likely to be interpreted in a way that is favorable to the rights of individual gun owner rather than to public safety concerns.

#3 – State laws on gun ownership – diverse and often lax.

While the federal government and the various states can impose some, often ambiguous and often weakly enforced laws, on gun ownership by private citizens, they cannot ban such ownership. At the same time, federal law is vague enough to be applied expansively by the states. The online encyclopedia Wikipedia has a 63-page long review of the gun laws by the states that was updated on March 1, 2018 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_laws_in_the_United_States_by_state).

It’s startling how extensive gun ownership rights are. The law is bewilderingly complex and diverse. Note that in the following summary list of state-level gun ownership laws, there are some issues like arming teachers or other school personnel that have not yet been legislated or addressed by the judicial system. Here’s is what the Wikipedia investigators find generally. There is also a table that includes all the states in alphabetical order and provides details on gun-related laws for each of the states.

        Some [not all] states and localities require that a person obtain a license or permit to purchase or possess firearms.

        Some [not all] states and localities require that individual firearms be registered with the police or with another law enforcement agency.

        All states allow some form of concealed carry, the carrying of a concealed weapon in public.

        Many states [not all] allow some form of open carry, the carrying of an unconcealed firearm in public on one’s person or in a vehicle.

        Some [not all] states have state preemption for some or all gun laws, which means that only the state can legally regulate firearms. In other states, local governments can pass their own gun laws more restrictive than those of the state.

        Some [not all] states and localities place additional restrictions on certain semi-automatic firearms that they have defined as assault weapons, or on magazines that can hold more than a certain number of rounds of ammunition.

        NFA weapons or weapons that are heavily restricted at a federal level by the National Firearms Act of 1934 and the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986. These include automatic firearms (such as machine guns), short-barreled shotguns, and short-barreled rifles. Some [not] states and localities place additional restrictions on such weapons.

        Some [not all] states have enacted castle doctrines or stand-your-own ground laws, which provide a legal basis for individuals to use deadly force in self-defense in certain situations, without a duty to flee or retreat if possible.

        In some [not all] states, peaceable journey laws give additional leeway for the possession of firearms by travelers who are passing through to another destination.

        Some [not all] states require a background check of the buyer when a firearm is sold by a private party. (Federal law requires background checks for sales by licensed gun deals, and for any interstate sales.)

The evidence establishes that there are states, “red” (Republican) states, that do not even require a license or permit to possess firearms or to register them with the police or other law enforcement agency. And “many states” allow “some form of open carry.” The states with the weakest gun laws and the highest household gun ownership rates, such as Alaska, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas, also have the highest homicide rates and highest rates of gun deaths. This is well documented by Gabor’s chapter 8: “The Deadliest States.” Indeed, there are many states that don’t place any restrictions on semi-assault weapons or on high-capacity magazines. There are even some states that allow private citizens to own machine guns. Overall, in the states where Republicans control the state houses and legislatures, gun laws allow for easy access to a wide range of weapons and ironically also have the highest rates of deaths and injuries from guns. It’s the opposite in “blue” states like California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut. Hawaii, Maryland, and Rhode Island.

In Ohio

What is the law on gun ownership by private citizens in Ohio, where the Governor is a Republican and the state house and state legislature are controlled by Republicans? According to the evidence that Wikipedia has compiled, private citizens in Ohio are permitted to openly carry long guns (e.g., rifles) or handguns without a permit if they are 18 years or older. There is no requirement that firearms must be registered or that gunowners must have a license. This means that there is too little time for an authorized gun seller to collect all relevant information on a person before he/she buys a gun, though as I already noted, the federal system that provides information for background checks is inadequate. And, further, there is no law in Ohio governing semi-assault or assault weapons.

You can see the status of 28 bills that would change how Ohioans purchase, carry and use their guns have been introduced since this legislative session started in January 2021, as reported by Anna Staver

 (https://dispatch.com/story/news/2022/05/25/ohio-lawmakers-have-introduced-nearly-30-gun-bills-what-they/9923728002). Fifteen of the bills were introduced by Democrats, only one of which has received a first hearing. Thirteen bills were introduced by Republicans, and “all but one of the Republican bills (which was just introduced) has started moving through the process. And some, like the one removing the requirement to get a permit before carrying a concealed weapon, have been signed into law.” 

#4 – They blame mental illness as the main, if not only, reason for mass shootings

There is a danger in creating and putting people into stigmatizing classification schemes. Those on the pro-gun side of the argument often argue that mass gun shootings are the result of persons with mental illness. Linda Qiu and Justin Bank consider the mental-health issue in an article titled “Checking Facts and Falsehoods About Gun Violence and Mental Illness After Parkland Shooting” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/16/us/politics/fact-check-parkland-gun-violence-mental-illness.html). Their main finding is that most people with mental illness do not commit violent crimes. They cite the following evidence.

“Overall, mass shootings by people with serious mental illness represent 1 percent of all gun homicides each year, according to the book ‘Gun Violence and Mental Illness’ published by the American Psychiatric Association in 2016.

“To be sure, gun violence experts contacted by New York Times reporters have said that barring sales to people who are deemed dangerous by mental health providers could help prevent mass shootings. But the experts said several more measures — including banning assault weapons and barring sales to convicted violent criminals — are more effective.”

Qiu and Bank continue.

“A 2016 academic study estimated that just 4 percent of violence is associated with serious mental illness alone. “Evidence is clear that the large majority of people with mental disorders do not engage in violence against others, and that most violent behavior is due to factors other than mental illness,” the study concluded.

A 2015 study found that less than 5 percent of gun-related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were committed by people diagnosed with mental illness.

“As John T. Monahan, a professor specializing in psychology and law at the University of Virginia, told The Times: ‘Two things typically happen in the wake of a mass shooting. First, politicians claim that mental illness is the major cause of violence in America. Then, advocates for people with mental illness respond by denying there is any relationship whatsoever between mental illness and violence. Both groups are wrong. Research shows that the association between mental illness and violence is not strong, but it does exist.”

Red Flag Laws

There is now some discussion in some states about introducing “red flag” gun laws that would urge teachers, school administrators, other school personnel to pay attention to and perhaps discipline students who exhibit dangerous behavior or talk in person or on twitter or facebook about committing violence to themselves or others. These laws would also encourage students and their parents to do the same.

Bennett Leckrone considers this issue in an article for The Columbus Dispatch and reports that Ohio legislators are considering ways to take guns from at-risk people before they might harm themselves or others (http://www.dispatch.com/news/20180303/ohio-lawmakers-mull-ways-to-take-guns-from-those-showing-red-flag-of-danger).

Jason Hanna and Laura Ly address this topic in an article the title of which captures the thrust of their report, namely, “After the Parkland massacre, more states consider ‘red flag’ gun bills” (https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/07/us/gun-extreme-risk-protection-orders/index.html).

Such a policy would first have to figure out a way to protect first amendment and due process rights, and also avoid over-reacting on racial grounds. When do behavioral problems forecast future violent outbursts. Should government and school authorities encourage a student “tip” system, in which students are encouraged to provide information about another student who is behaving aggressively? It seems reasonable that schools might be better positioned to anticipate such problems if they had trained psychologists and counselors who could intervene and investigate such situations professionally

#5 – They want to arm teachers  

If the responses of those who oppose gun regulation, for example the likes of Trump, the NRA, and many Republican legislators, continue successfully to achieve their pro-gun goals, we’ll unfortunately end up with fortress-like schools, armed teachers and/or other adults in the schools, fearful children, and, given the record, the chances that minority children in inadequately-resourced schools will end up disproportionately among the victims. Benjamin Balthaser, associate professor of multi-ethnic US literature at Indiana University, South Bend, argues, “arming teachers” will kill education 

(http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/43707-arming-teachers-killing-education-why-trump-s-proposal-has-nothing-to-do-with-safety).

He’s worth quoting, as follows.

“Bearing the role of public education in mind, it is self-evident that arming teachers will do little if anything to actually make schools safer. Not only would having multiple shooters increase the confusion and mayhem of a mass shooting, the “good-guy-with-a-gun” theory has been widely debunked, and leads to all kinds of other bizarre questions, such as: Who decides which teachers are armed? Where are the guns stored? Who decides when a teacher can use a gun? What are the penalties for misusing a gun? The practical problems with arming teachers are so abundant, like many of Trump’s gestures of contempt, these ‘solutions’ are not designed to solve real-world problems, but rather to shift the discourse and change the boundaries of what is deemed acceptable in civil society.

“The proposal to arm teachers should not be seen as just a joke. It is not serious as a way to stop violence but is deadly serious about one thing: ending the progressive role of education and educators. The proposal is not about helping students but turning the student-teacher relationship from one of trust and respect into one of violence…. The right [to gun ownership by private citizens] does not imagine teachers wielding weapons so much as weapons remaking teachers”

Henry Giroux echoes these and other concerns (https://www.truth-out.org/news/item/43732-killing-children-in-the-age-of-disposability-the-parkland-shooting-was-about-more-than-gun-violence).

Giroux is troubled by the call to eliminate the ordinary gun-free zones in the public schools by arming teachers for eliminating gun-free zones and arming teachers, when this “comes at a time when many schools have already been militarized by the presence of police and the increasing criminalization of student behaviors.”

Giroux continues: “Suggesting that teachers be armed and turned into potential instruments of violence extends and normalizes the prison as a model for schools and the increasing expansion of the school-to-prison pipeline. What is being left out of this tragedy is that the number of police in schools has doubled in the last decade from 20 percent in 1996 to 43 percent today. Moreover, as more police are put in schools, more and more children are brutalized by them. There is no evidence that putting the police in schools has made them any safer. Instead, more and more young people have criminal records, are being suspended, or expelled from school, all in the name of school safety.” Giroux quotes Sam Sinyangwe, the director of the Mapping Police Violence Project, to further document his point.

“The data … that does exist … shows that more police in schools leads to more criminalization of students, and especially black and brown students. Every single year, about 70,000 kids are arrested in school…. [Moreover] since 1999, 10,000 additional police officers have been placed at schools, with no impact on violence. Meanwhile, about one million students have been arrested for acts previously punishable by detention or suspension, and black students are three times more likely to be arrested than their white peers.”

“Trump’s proposal to arm teachers suggests that the burden of gun violence and the crimes of the gun industries and politicians should fall on teachers’ shoulders, foolishly imagining that armed teachers would be able to stop a killer with military grade weapons, and disregarding the risk of teachers shooting other students, staff or faculty in the midst of such a chaotic moment.”

Brian Moench also brings our attention to what seems to be a commonsense fact, namely, that “teachers with handguns are no match for assault rifles” (http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/43689-teachers-with-handguns-are-no-match-for-assault-rifles-why-the-trump-nra-plan-doesn-t-work).

And Gyasi Ross worries that young African American and Native American students could turn out to be disproportionately the victims of armed teachers (https://www.truthdig.com/articles/arming-teachers-stupidest-racist-idea-going).

“According to a new CBS poll, the nation is split almost nearly in half on whether teachers should carry guns, with 44 percent of Americans saying they support arming more teachers and 50 percent opposing the idea. Even more unexpected is the fact that this is not split along entirely partisan lines. We tend to expect Republicans to stick to the party line in order to keep up their National Rifle Association contributions. But although 74 percent of Democrats oppose arming teachers, the poll shows that 20 percent support the prospect. Egads!”

Ross continues.

“If Trump, Republican legislators, and the NRA have their way, school districts in communities will have the right, if not the mandate, to arm at least some teachers – and other school personnel. If this is the way the current debate is resolved, the tragic irony is that it will facilitate the manufacture and distribution of yet more guns in a society that already has a surfeit of guns, including semi-automatic and automatic weapons that are designed for war. It will be a boon for the weapons’ makers and a victory for the pro-gun advocates like the NRA and most Republicans. But, in the process, the schools’ basic missions will have been compromised, that is, providing students with the educational foundation to become informed and productive citizens. Indeed, there are already serious problems in the American schools, especially in how they are financed so much by local property taxes, resulting in great inequalities among school systems and in vastly unequal outcomes for students. This issue of an unequal school system has long been of concern and has worsened. See the articles and books of professor of education Diane Ravitch for incisive analyses of the problems and inequalities the school system generally and, in a recent book, the “hoax of the privatization movement.”

Part 3: An approach to achieve reasonable gun laws

John Donohue, distinguished professor of law at Stanford University, offers an outline of an approach for convincing people to support reasonable gun regulations (https://www.stanford.edu/2015/09/03/how-us-gun-control-compares-to-the-rest-of-the-world). He makes four points.

First, Donahue’s research team finds that the great majority of Americans, including a majority of NRA members, favor universal background checks. Indeed, 90% of Americans favored such checks after the Newtown school massacre of 2012.

Despite the influence of the NRA, Trump, the Republican Party, the gun manufacturers, the right-wing media, most Americans believe there is a need for gun regulation. Experts and the public agree on how to stop gun violence. Politicians don’t, according to Christopher Ingraham (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/10/02/experts-and-the-public-agree-on-how-to-stop-gun-violence-politicians-dont/?utm_term=.394c3020ba60).

“Despite its reputation as an intractable, deeply divisive issue, there’s a lot of agreement among the American public on support for gun-control measures.

Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza and Rachael Bade report for Politico, on “a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll conducted entirely after the shooting in Uvalde, offering a snapshot of the mood of American voters at this moment in time, and where they stand on a variety of gun reform proposals” (https://politico.com/newsletter/playbook/2022/05/26/new-poll-shows-huge-support-for-gun-restriction). Here’s what they found.

“Requiring background checks on all gun sales: Eighty-eight percent strongly or somewhat support; 8% strongly or somewhat oppose. Net approval: +80

Creating a national database with info about each gun sale: Seventy-five percent strongly or somewhat support; 18% strongly or somewhat oppose. Net approval: +57

“Banning assault-style weapons: Sixty-seven percent strongly or somewhat support; 25% strongly or somewhat oppose. Net approval: +42

“Preventing sales of all firearms to people reported as dangerous to law enforcement by a mental health provider: Eighty-four percent strongly or somewhat support; 9% strongly or somewhat oppose. Net approval: +75

“Making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks: Eighty-one percent strongly or somewhat support; 11% strongly or somewhat oppose. Net approval: +70

“Requiring all gun owners to store their guns in a safe storage unit: Seventy-seven percent strongly or somewhat support; 15% strongly or somewhat oppose. Net approval: +62

“BUT voters also support a proposal that’s been floated by many advocates of gun rights:

“Equipping teachers and school staff with concealed firearms to respond in the event of a school shooting: Fifty-four percent strongly or somewhat support; 34% strongly or somewhat oppose. Net approval: +20.”

Second, the NRA’s claim that guns reduce crime is belied by the fact that the “US is by far the world leader in the number of guns in civilian hands” and it has by far the highest homicide rate. And “only the tiniest fraction of victims of violent crime are able to use a gun in their defense.” Donohue writes on this point:

“Over the period from 2007-2011, when roughly six million nonfatal violent crimes occurred each year, data from the National Crime Victimization Survey show that the victim did not defend with a gun in 99.2% of these incidents – this is a country with 300 million guns in civilian hands.” 

And,

“…a study of 198 cases of unwanted entry into occupied single-family dwellings in Atlanta (not limited to night when the residents were sleeping) found that the invader was twice as likely to obtain the victim’s gun than to have the victim use a firearm in self-defense.”

Donohue and his colleagues at Stanford have also spent years studying the effects of “right to carry” laws (RTC) found “the most compelling evidence to date that RTC laws are associated with significant increases in violent crime – particularly for aggravated assault.” Additionally, they report, the Uniform Crime Reports from 1979-2012 show that, “on average, the 33 states that adopted RTC laws over this period experienced violent crime rates that are 4%-19% higher after ten years than if they had not adopted these laws.”

Third, most other advanced nations make it harder for people to obtain a Glock semiautomatic handgun “or any other kind of firearm.” Donohue lists some examples of other countries that have tighter gun regulations than the U.S. and have much lower violent crime rates. The lesson: Other countries have proven they can protect the public safety with more strict gun regulations – and the U.S. should learn from them.

        Germany: To buy a gun, anyone under the age of 25 has to pass a psychiatric evaluation (presumably 21-year-old Dylann Roof would have failed).

        Finland: Handgun license applicants are only allowed to purchase firearms if they can prove they are active members of regulated shooting clubs. Before they can get a gun, applicants must pass an aptitude test, submit to a police interview, and show they have a proper gun storage unit.

        Italy: To secure a gun permit, one must establish a genuine reason to possess a firearm and pass a background check considering both criminal and mental health records (again, presumably Dylann Roof would have failed).

        France: Firearms applicants must have no criminal record and pass a background check that considers the reason for the gun purchase and evaluates the criminal, mental, and health records of the applicant. (Dylann Roof would presumably have failed in this process).

        United Kingdom and Japan: Handguns are illegal for private citizens.

There are other sources that support Donohue’s international comparisons. Audrey Carlsen and Sahil Chinoy report in an article for the New York Times that is more difficult in all other listed countries for citizens to obtain a weapon legally than in the United States (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/03/02/world/international-gun-laws.html?_r=0).

And Juliette Jowit and Sandra Laville in London, Calla Wahlquist in Port Arthur, Philip Oltermann in Berlin, Justin McCurry in Tokyo and Lois Beckett in New York report that “The United States’s gun homicide rate is 25 times higher than other high-income countries” (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/mar/15/so-america-this-is-how-you-do-gun-control).

Fourth, according to Donohue, “Australia hasn’t had a mass shooting since 1996.” Prior to that year, there had been 13 mass shootings. The turning point came with “the 1996 Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania, in which a gunman killed 35 individuals using semiautomatic weapons.” The conservative government then introduced and succeeded in implementing tough new gun laws, including the banning of a large array of weapons and the imposition of a mandatory gun buy back. The murder rate fell dramatically and there has not been a mass shooting since 1996. None. Thus, banning an array of high-powered guns did not lead to the loss of individual freedom but to an improvement in public safety.

There is other evidence supporting those who see an urgent need for greater gun regulation. Authoritative research documents how permissive state gun laws are associated with higher homicide rates. Joan Conley, staff writer for Common Dreams reports on a new, sweeping analysis on gun policy from the RAND Corporation that finds stricter gun laws reduce gun violence, “that laws to prevent children from accessing firearms can decrease suicides and unintentional injuries or deaths,” and “that universal background checks would lead to a drop in suicides and violent crimes.” In the opposite direction, Rand researchers found that “[c]oncealed-carry and stand-your-ground laws—both backed by the NRA—were also found to increase violent crimes” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2018/03/02/what-does-research-nra-doesnt-want-funded-show-gun-restrictions-save-lives).

Add to the list the proposals to ban semi- and fully-automatic.

The NRA argues that, even semi-automatic weapons, even when equipped with bump stocks, should not be regulated. One way to contest this claim is to help others understand the extraordinary harm to the body that is done by the AR-15 and other military style weapons. When the bullet from one of these weapons strikes a person, bones and soft tissue are obliterated. Even if victims survive, they often have injuries to their organs and bones that will never be healed, often living with pain and disability for the rest of their lives. This issue is expertly addressed by Gina Kolata and C. J. Chivers in an article published in the New York Times titled aptly “Wounds from Miitary-Style Rifles? A Ghastly Thing To See” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/04/health/parkland-shooting-victims-ar15.html).

Connecticut: a model for gun regulation?

The states that have strong gun regulation are all “blue,” or Democratic, states, including, as mentioned earlier, states like Connecticut, Massachusetts and California, which also have the lowest gun deaths according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Anthony Brooks reports that gun-regulation advocates are looking to “Connecticut as a model for gun control?” (http://www.wbur.org/views/2018/03/08/connecticut-gun-laws).

Connecticut introduced its gun reform law after the Sandy Hook Shooting, which, according to Wikipedia’s account, “occurred on December 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut, United States, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children between six and seven years old, as well as six adult staff members. Prior to driving to the school, he shot and killed his mother at their Newtown home. As first responders arrived at the school, Lanza committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.”

The Wikipedia section on Sandy Hook notes that “Newtown is located in Fairfield County, Connecticut, about 60 miles (100 km) from New York City. Violent crime had been rare in the town of 28,000 residents; there was only one homicide in the town in the ten years prior to the school shooting.” A report issued by the Office of the Child Advocate in November 2014 is cited by Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandy_Hook_Elementary_School_shooting).

The report “said that Lanza had Asperger’s syndrome and as a teenager suffered from depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, but concluded that they had ‘neither caused nor led to his murderous acts.’ The report concludes that ‘his severe and deteriorating internalized mental health problems… combined with an atypical preoccupation with violence… (and) access to deadly weapons… proved a recipe for mass murder’. Lanza used his mother’s Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle, shot his way through a glass panel next to the locked front entrance doors of the school, and commenced the horrifying shooting spree.

About four months after the murders, on April 4, 2013, Connecticut Gov. Dannell Malloy, completed the signing of legislation that included “new restrictions on weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines,” according to senior reporter Anthony Brooks (http://www.wbur.org/news/2018/03/08/connecticut-gun-laws).

State lawmakers “expanded an assault weapons ban, both the sale and manufacture, including on the AR-15, and outlawed high-capacity magazines” with more than ten rounds of ammunition.

Brooks continues: “They required background checks for the sale of all firearms, tightened gun ownership regulations, and increased funding for mental health and school security.” Subsequently, crime fell, homicides were down, and “violent crime is down here more than anywhere else in the country in the last four years,” Malloy told Brooks. Gun rights critics in Connecticut criticize the law, arguing that a better way to make school safer is to make schools more secure (which is already a part of the law) and give teachers the means to defend themselves. There is little support in Newtown or in the state for arming teachers.

Concluding thoughts

This post offers a case for reasonable gun regulations. The majority of adult Americans want such regulation, though it is not clear whether a majority would prioritize their desire for gun regulation when they vote. The evidence documents that other higher-income countries have been successful in regulating guns and reducing gun-related killing and mayhem. There are some states in the U.S., “blue” states, that have effective gun regulations. Effective gun regulation is correlated with lower gun violence and deaths.

However, there is a powerful coalition of right-wing forces that are opposed to even minimal gun regulation. For them, opposition to gun regulation is only one part of a larger agenda. Inspired by the conman and aspiring-autocrat Trump, they not only oppose gun regulation, but also oppose the reproductive rights of women, while favoring severe anti-immigration policies, unlimited campaign contributions and doing their utmost to limit the votes of their opponents. It’s an old, but sad, story. It also has the flavor of incipient fascism.

The results of the upcoming November elections in November 2022 will tell us a lot. If the Republicans take control of the Senate or House, they will have the power, with the right-wing Supreme Court, to obstruct any policy initiatives from the Democrats and perhaps find ways to nationalize their anti-gun-regulation position and make gun regulations in “blue” states illegal. They can only be stopped if voters elect Democratic candidates to federal and state offices, along with pursuing educational and organizing efforts.

Right-wing forces positioned to end the right to abortion

Bob Sheak, May 20, 2022

Introduction

The right-wing political and social movements to end or severely curtail access to abortion are relentless and anti-democratic. Democrats in the U.S. Senate are unable to pass abortion rights legislation. The right-wing U.S. Supreme Court moves toward banning Roe v Wade. Republican legislators in states across the country continue to mandate laws that limit access to abortion and also increase the penalties on those who violate these laws. There is a long-standing, well-funded, and well-organized anti-abortion movement that extends its influence. And right-wing media spread disinformation about the realities of abortion.

The last chapter in this story has not yet been written. A majority of Americans support abortion rights or some of them. There is a vibrant reproductive rights infrastructure and committed people who are passionate in their efforts to educate and organize about the need to preserve such rights. The right to abortion protects women from the authoritarian and punitive interventions in their reproductive decisions from state officials. We will know more about how this will end up when the results of the November 2022 elections are known.

But unfolding events are worrisome.

The Right has momentum

#1 – Prevented abortion rights legislation from being enacted

The U.S. House passed the 2021 Women’s Health Protection Act on September, 2021, as reported by the Center for Reproductive Rights (https://reproductiverights.org/historic-vote-house-passes-womens-health-protection-act). The Center points out that this is “the first ever congressional vote on proactive, standalone legislation to protect abortion rights. The bill, passed by a 218-211 vote, safeguards abortion access from state-level bans and restrictions.” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, noted that the “House has stepped in where the courts have failed us. This historic vote is the first time legislation has advanced in Congress to establish a right to abortion. Now the Senate must act or the current crisis on abortion access in Texas could reverberate across large swaths of the nation.” 

The Senate Democrats subsequently tried and failed twice to pass the WHPA. In February, Nick Lacata reports, the legislation was “defeated by the Senate 46-48, with Sen. Joe Manchin joining the Republicans against it” as [he would do] again on the second vote (https://counterpunch.org/2022/05/16/the-buffalo-shooting-and-the-great-replacement). Then on Wednesday May 11, “the Senate, for the second time in 2022, defeated Democrats’ legislation [S 4132] to protect abortion rights under federal law. The legislation went down 51-49.

It was a long shot. Few analysts thought the legislation would get 60 votes to bypass a Republican filibuster and they were right. Joe Manchin (D-WV) refused to join other Democratic Senators in circumventing the filibuster through a reconciliation process, which takes a simple majority vote of 51. Nonetheless, Licata writes, “Senate Democrats pushed ahead believing not that they would win the necessary votes to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, but that it would rouse voters sympathetic to retaining at least some aspects of Roe to become involved in the electoral process and, at a minimum, vote for pro-choice Democratic candidates.”

Provisions of the Women’s Health Protection Act

The details of the legislation are printed by the U.S. Government Publishing Office and can be found at: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/BILLS-117s4132pcs/BILLS-117s4132pcs.htm). Here from this source are the core provisions of the Senate bill, its goals and what would be impermissible in the unlikely event that the US Senate passed the Women’s Health Care Protection Act.

—————-

EC. 3. PERMITTED SERVICES.

    (a) General Rule. A health care provider has a statutory right

under this Act to provide abortion services, and may provide abortion

services, and that provider’s patient has a corresponding right to

receive such services, without any of the following limitations or

requirements:

            (1) A requirement that a health care provider perform

        specific tests or medical procedures in connection with the

        provision of abortion services, unless generally required for

        the provision of medically comparable procedures.

            (2) A requirement that the same health care provider who

        provides abortion services also perform specified tests,

        services, or procedures prior to or subsequent to the abortion.

            (3) A requirement that a health care provider offer or

        provide the patient seeking abortion services medically

        inaccurate information in advance of or during abortion

        services.

            (4) A limitation on a health care provider’s ability to

        prescribe or dispense drugs based on current evidence-based

        regimens or the provider’s good-faith medical judgment, other

        than a limitation generally applicable to the medical

        profession.

            (5) A limitation on a health care provider’s ability to

        provide abortion services via telemedicine, other than a

        limitation generally applicable to the provision of medical

        services via telemedicine.

            (6) A requirement or limitation concerning the physical

        plant, equipment, staffing, or hospital transfer arrangements

        of facilities where abortion services are provided, or the

        credentials or hospital privileges or status of personnel at

        such facilities, that is not imposed on facilities or the

        personnel of facilities where medically comparable procedures

        are performed.

            (7) A requirement that, prior to obtaining an abortion, a

        patient make one or more medically unnecessary in-person visits

        to the provider of abortion services or to any individual or

        entity that does not provide abortion services.

            (8) A prohibition on abortion at any point or points in

        time prior to fetal viability, including a prohibition or

        restriction on a particular abortion procedure.

            (9) A prohibition on abortion after fetal viability when,

        in the good-faith medical judgment of the treating health care

        provider, continuation of the pregnancy would pose a risk to

        the pregnant patient’s life or health.

            (10) A limitation on a health care provider’s ability to

        provide immediate abortion services when that health care

        provider believes, based on the good-faith medical judgment of

        the provider, that delay would pose a risk to the patient’s

        health.

            (11) A requirement that a patient seeking abortion services

        at any point or points in time prior to fetal viability

        disclose the patient’s reason or reasons for seeking abortion

        services, or a limitation on the provision or obtaining of

        abortion services at any point or points in time prior to fetal

        viability based on any actual, perceived, or potential reason

        or reasons of the patient for obtaining abortion services,

        regardless of whether the limitation is based on a health care

        provider’s degree of actual or constructive knowledge of such

        reason or reasons.

——————-

Republicans at all levels of the political system oppose abortion rights.

One thing is clear. Most, if not all, Republicans in the House and Senate are opposed to legislation that protects a woman’s right to an abortion. They argue that at fertilization the embryo is a “person” deserving Constitutional protection, that those who violate relevant laws against abortion are to be held liable for possible criminal prosecution, and that individual citizens are promised financial rewards when they successfully inform authorities about any effort by physicians or others to facilitate an abortion.

Licata adds: “If Congress, in its current makeup, is unable to protect the right of women to have some freedom over their choice in having a child, then the Democrats will have to focus on state politics. They must craft a message on abortion that will assist their candidates in select states to retain or expand the number of seats in that chamber.” The problem is that Republicans are holding their own in the majority of states, suppressing the votes of opponents, gerrymandering “safe” congressional and state districts, and passing anti-democratic rules to enable Republican state election officials to reject the popular votes when that vote goes against them.

Support for S. 4132, the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights published a letter to Senate leader Chuck Schumer on May 10, 2022 (https://civilrights.org/resource/support-s-4132-the-womens-health-protection-act-of-2022/#).

“On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 230 national organizations to promote and protect the civil and human rights of all persons in the United States, and the 93 undersigned organizations, we write in support of S. 4132, the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022. We urge all senators to vote in favor of the bill. The Leadership Conference will include this vote in its Voting Record for the 117th Congress.

The letter points to the mounting threats to abortion rights.

“This issue is one of grave urgency for the civil and human rights community and for people across the United States. A draft Supreme Court opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which became public last week, indicates that a majority of justices are prepared to overturn the constitutional right to abortion established in Roe v. Wade and reaffirmed in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.[1] If the draft decision prevails, as many as 28 states could ban or further limit abortion in the near future, which would block more than half the people in the United States who could become pregnant from their right to an abortion.[2] We have arrived at this perilous moment after a decades-long campaign by wealthy and powerful interests to rig the judiciary and stack our courts with extremists,[3] including Supreme Court justices selected with the express purpose of overturning decades of legal precedent and ending legal abortion.[4] While this decision has not yet been issued and abortion remains legal in the United States, immediate congressional action is imperative for the ability of people who can become pregnant to control their own bodies, lives, and futures.

“By protecting abortion access from medically unnecessary restrictions that obstruct the right of all persons to obtain safe, legal abortion services, the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA) seeks to remedy and prevent the onslaught of state-level abortion bans and restrictions that cause significant and sometimes insurmountable challenges to receiving abortion care. These restrictions disproportionately impact the ability of low-income women and women of color to access health care, robs pregnant people of bodily autonomy, and threatens the economic security of families and individuals, many of whom are already struggling to get by.

Will the abortion issue help Democrats in November?

Democrats in the U.S. Congress think that it will. Here’s what Licata offers on this issue.

“Schumer had warned the Republicans that their support of the Supreme Court Justices’ banning abortions would cost them at the polls. On the Senate floor, he said, ‘the elections this November will have consequences because the rights of 100 million women are now on the ballot.”

Poll results provide some support for such optimism. Licata points out, “Polls have shown that most voters don’t want to see the supreme court overturn the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling that protected abortion rights. He refers to the following examples.

“In February, a Yahoo News survey found that most voters supported ‘a constitutional right that women in all states should have some access to abortion,’ while only about 30 percent agreed that ‘states should be able to outlaw’ abortion.

“Polling for retaining Roe is surprisingly strong across the political spectrum. In a Fox News poll this month, May 3, most Democrats and Independents (both over 70%) voted to let it stand. Even 60% of Republicans were of that opinion.

“Another recent poll in May taken by Politico found that nearly 50 percent of voters want Congress to pass ‘a bill to establish federal abortion rights granted through Roe v. Wade, in case the Supreme Court overturns the ruling.’ And only about 30 percent oppose overturning Roe.

Support among the public for abortion rights is growing

Andrea Germanos reports on a May 2022 NBC poll that finds support for abortion rights at “new high” (https://commondreams.org/news/2022/05/16/evisceration-roe-looms-poll-finds-support-abortion-rights-new-high).

“Released Sunday,” she writes, “the survey of 1,000 adults reveals that 60% say abortion should be legal at least some of the time. Thirty-seven percent say it should be legal all the time, and 23% say it should be legal most of the time. That combined amount of support marks the highest level since the poll first asked the question in 2003.” Other findings of the poll include the following.

“Just 5% say it should be illegal without exceptions—a new low level of support for that position—while 32% say it should be illegal except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the mother’s life.

“The poll also found that 63% oppose overturning Roe, 54% of whom strongly oppose overturning the 1973 Supreme Court decision. In contrast, 30% support overturning the ruling.”

“The survey…was conducted this month after Politico published Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s draft majority opinion for Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that would overturn the abortion rights enshrined by Roe and later affirmed in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.” In response to the Alito draft, “pro-choice advocates held actions Saturday [May 14] in cities nationwide.”

Will they vote?

With so many important issues before the public, it is not clear how abortion will figure in how people vote or don’t vote in the November 2022 elections.

Pollsters from FiveThirtyEight periodically ask a sample of Americans about what issues are most important. In the most recent poll of 2,000 Americans, they found, as of the second week in May, that inflation is the most important issue for people (https://fivethitryeight.com/features/we-asked-2000-americans-about-their-biggest-concern-the-resounding-answer-inflation).

“At this point, the answer to what Americans are most worried about is pretty straightforward: inflation. In the first FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll,1 52 percent of Americans said the most important issue facing the country was inflation. We asked Americans this question in a variety of ways,2 but regardless of how we asked it, the top answer was always the same: inflation.

“It’s true that a larger percentage of Republicans than Democrats or independents in our poll said they were concerned about inflation. But inflation still led the way regardless of party identification: About two-thirds of Republicans selected it as a top issue, as did about half of all independents and slightly more than 40 percent of Democrats. Inflation was the top issue for respondents of all age groups and for both men and women, too. Now, some Americans did find other issues more important, though. For instance, 43 percent of Black Americans listed “race and racism” as a top concern, while 37 percent named inflation.”

What about the abortion issue? Out of 20 “answers,” the issue of abortion ranked a lowly 16. This low ranking does not mean that abortion won’t play a role in the November elections. Lots can happen over the next six months. As in the case of most important issues, it depends on how relatively effective pro-choice parties and organizations are, the resources they have to support political action and movement building, what issues at the time are absorbing public attention and concern, and how over the coming months the media treat the issue.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court moves to ban or severely limit access to abortions

Ken Levy, a professor of criminal law at Louisiana State University Law School, and Jody Lynee Madeira, professor of law and Louis F. Niezer Faculty Fellow, Maurer School of Law, at Indiana-Bloomington University, consider the dubious assumptions of the Supreme Court on the abortion issue, and particularly of the assumptions in the recently leaked Justice Samuel Alito’s “draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health. If the court rules in favor of the Dobbs case and ends or severely curtails access to abortion, Levy and Madeira anticipate that it will “unleash hardship, suffering, and chaos for millions.” The court’s official opinion will be released in June (https://commondreams.com/views/2022/05/07/right-wing-supreme-court-about-unleash-hardship-suffering-and-chaos-millions). The law professors argue that the fundamental issue concerns whether Americans have a right to privacy and protection against undue interference by the political system in their lives.

Right-wing Justice Alito offers two reasons for this why he concludes that the Constitution  “does not explicitly protect the right to abortion, and the right to obtain an abortion is neither ‘deeply rooted in [our] history and tradition’ nor ‘essential to our Nation’s ‘scheme of ordered liberty.’”   

Contrary to Justice Alito, Levy and Madeira point out that “a right may be constitutionally protected even if is not explicitly stated in the Constitution, “not deeply rooted in [our] history and tradition,” and not “essential to our Nation’s ‘scheme of ordered liberty.’” They refer to a position taken by Justice Anthony Kennedy in the Supreme Court case, County of Sacramento v. Lewis (1998).

“‘[H]istory and tradition are the starting point but not in all cases the ending point of the substantive due process inquiry.’ (Substantive due process is the doctrine that specific language in the Fourteenth Amendment — ‘No State shall … deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law …’ — guarantees citizens not only procedural due process but also substantive autonomy or privacy rights.)  

“Seventeen years later, in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), Justice Kennedy offered a fifth criterion in addition to explicit constitutional text, history, tradition, and essentiality to ordered liberty: “The fundamental liberties protected by [the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process] Clause … extend to certain personal choices central to individual dignity and autonomy, including intimate choices that define personal identity and beliefs.”    

“Yet a sixth criterion was offered in Griswold v. Connecticut (1964): An ‘unenumerated’ right may be constitutionally protected as long as it can be reasonably inferred from rights that are explicitly stated in the Constitution.

“Writing for the majority, Justice William O. Douglas [then in 1964] argued that the right of married couples to use contraception falls within a more general ‘right to privacy’ and that this more general right itself derives from specific rights explicitly stated in the Constitution: the right of free association in the First Amendment, the right of domiciliary exclusion in the Third Amendment, the right to be secure “against unreasonable searches and seizures” in the Fourth Amendment, and the right against self-incrimination in the Fifth Amendment.   

“According to Justice Douglas, these specific rights of privacy are both more ‘secure” and more “meaningful’ if it is assumed that the Constitution does indeed contain a general right to privacy. By analogy, our First Amendment right to freedom of speech is more robust, less vulnerable to government intervention, if we interpret it broadly rather than narrowly — that is, if we interpret it to protect not merely the right to speak but also the rights to think, read, publish and teach. If thinking, reading, publishing, and teaching were not thought to be constitutionally protected — because none of these verbs is explicitly mentioned in the First Amendment — our right to freedom of speech would be much narrower and under threat of being narrowed even further.   

Levy and Madeira conclude: “While Justice Alito does not deny a general right to privacy, he also does not affirm it. This ominous omission leaves the right to privacy, and therefore all the specific autonomy rights that have been predicated upon it — not only the right to use contraception but also the right to interracial marriage, to gay marriage, to consensual sodomy, to non-nuclear-familial cohabitation, and to refusal of medical assistance — vulnerable to eradication in one fell swoop.”   

And at the state and local levels.

Here’s some of what I wrote in a post titled the “right wing’s assault on reproductive rights gains disturbing momentum” (https://vitalissues-bobsheak.com/2021/12/23/the-right-wings-assault-on-reproductive-rights-gains-disturbing-momentum)

—————

Since the landmark court decision of Roe v. Wade in 1973, right-wing forces have supported and passed into law a bevy of restrictions designed to limit the right of female teenagers and women to abortion.

Elizabeth Nash refers to documentation of the last point, writing that “a staggering 1,300 restrictions enacted by states since the U.S. Supreme Court protected abortion rights in 1973 in its Roe v. Wade decision…. It’s an astounding number, although many of these laws were blocked in court, most of them are in effect today” (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/abortion-rights-are-at-the-greatest-risk-since-roe-v-wade-was-decided-in-1972).

 In another article, Nash reports on a tally on abortion restrictions through the first 10 months of 2021 (https://guttmacher.org/article/2021/10/first-time-ever-us-states-enacted-more-100-abortion-restrictions-single-year).

“States have enacted 106 abortion restrictions so far in 2021, a year that has been marked by unprecedented threats to U.S. abortion rights and access. Not only is 106 the highest number of restrictions passed since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, but also this year is the first time that Guttmacher’s count of enacted restrictions has hit triple digits. Earlier this year, the number of restrictions had already surpassed the previous record of 89 restrictions set in 2011

Professor and writer Dana Greene Foster offers similar evidence from her in-depth book, The Turnaway Study: Ten Years, a Thousand Women, and the Consequences of Having – or being denied – an Abortion (publ. 2020), and writes:

“Conservative statehouses have passed countless regulations, keeping abortion legal but rendering it all be inaccessible for many Americans who don’t have the resources to travel great distances to less restrictive states. Forty-three states ban abortions for most women after a certain point in their pregnancy. A third of states currently ban abortion at 20 weeks gestation. And in 2019, at least 17 states introduced legislation that would ban abortion at six weeks into pregnancy or even earlier” (p. 2).

The Outcome?

How all this will play out depends in the final analysis on who controls the levers of power in government, that is, on politics and elections. Currently, the GOP, a largely pro-life party, is working in the states to suppress the vote of opponents, intensifying the gerrymandered arrangements in congressional districts, and changing the electoral rules to enable state legislatures to decide which votes to count or not. David Pepper, among others, documents these unabashed anti-democratic projects in his book, Laboratories of Democracy. The Republicans also benefit from a huge electoral base of support that has been galvanized, not created, by Trump, though it appears slavishly willing to follow his leads.  

—————

The consequences of ending or severely curtailing abortion rights – some examples

#1 – Overturning “Roe” Would Immediately Activate Abortion Penalties in 13 States

Justin L. Brooks reports on this fact in an article for Truthout on May 7, 2022

(https://truthout.org/articles/overturning-roe-would-immediately-activate-abortion-penalties-in-13-states).

Brooks writes: “Fueling widespread anguish over this week’s revelation that Roe v. Wade will likely be overturned in the coming weeks is the reality that the end of Roe would immediately activate civil and criminal penalties for those who obtain abortions or assist people to obtain abortions in 13 states.”

These states have “trigger legislation… that contains both a substantive provision and a trigger provision. The substantive provision of the law outlines what the law would be if the court were to change any given precedent. In most states with anti-abortion legislation, the trigger provisions plainly state that abortion restrictions would take effect as soon as Roe is overruled. For example, Louisiana’s RS 40:1061, trigger legislation passed in 2006, bans all abortions without exception and reads, ‘… this Act shall become effective immediately upon, and to the extent permitted, by the occurrence of … any decision of the United States which reverses in whole or in part, Roe v. Wade … thereby restoring to the state of Louisiana the authority to prohibit abortion.’

“At present, many other states — Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, North Dakota, Missouri, South Dakota and Utah — have passed anti-abortion trigger legislation that awaits and anticipates the U.S. Supreme Court overruling Roe v. Wade. To be sure, trigger legislation does not have to be as explicit as the 2006 Louisiana law. For example, in 2019 Georgia passed HB 481, which bans all abortions after six weeks; it also criminalizes all attempts to obtain an abortion after the six-week cutoff. These criminal statutes are currently unenforceable under Casey, but Alito’s draft makes clear that the court would be overruling both Roe and Casey. This means that, after a person endures a six-week pregnancy in the state of Georgia, self-termination of that pregnancy would be murder, traveling to a different state to obtain an abortion would be conspiracy to commit murder, and assisting someone with obtaining an abortion would be conspiracy to commit murder in a post-Dobbs world. This is because under Georgia law, a fetus is a legal human, or a resident of the state. If it is not yet clear that trigger legislation eschews the rule of law, it is worth noting that it poses a substantial threat to the legitimacy of our representative democracy.”

Brooks continues: “If the court overturns Roe without condemning the trigger legislation, this could become the go-to strategy for conservatives who aim to overrule settled law. To be clear, by Alito’s rationale, there are other unenumerated rights that the majority-conservative court would likely hold are not ‘deeply rooted in the Nation’s history’ and thus do not warrant constitutional protection. These fundamental rights were created in landmark cases such as Brown v. Board of Education (a 1954 case outlawing segregated public schools), Gideon v. Wainwright (a 1963 case guaranteeing legal counsel to anyone accused of a crime), Loving v. Virginia (a 1967 case outlawing state legislation that banned interracial marriage), Lawrence v. Texas (a 2003 case invalidating sodomy laws that effectively criminalized same-sex intercourse), and Obergefell v. Hodges (a 2015 case guaranteeing the right to marry an individual of the same sex), among others. To offer an illustration of this strategy in effect, the Arkansas legislature can pass anti-interracial trigger legislation in its next legislative session that states:

“Interracial marriage is prohibited in the state of Arkansas. This will take effect if and when the Supreme Court overrules Loving v. Virginia.” If the court subsequently finds that interracial marriage is not a fundamental right, then the substantive provision would become enforceable law in Arkansas.”

“If Alito’s leaked draft is indicative of how the court will rule in Dobbs, it should be clear to us all that the conservative majority of the court is not concerned with constitutional precedent or the legitimacy of the law. It is not concerned with democratic deliberation and whether state legislatures represent majority will. It is, quite plainly, a coalition of jurists who are members of an aggrieved political bloc.

They seek to do nothing less than to throw the U.S. democratic republic into further disarray, and trigger legislation only makes that process more expedient.

#2 – Disrupt the lives of millions of individuals and families

Kelly Hayes, The End of “Roe” Will Lead to More Family Separation and Child Disappearance, Truthout, May 12, 2022

https://truthout.org/audio/the-end-of-roe-will-lead-to-more-family-separation-and-child-disappearance

-Sophie Novack, A glimpse of a Political Post-Roe Future Through Texas Women’s Stories, Washington Post, May 15, 2022

(https://washingtonpost.com/magazine/interactive/2022/texas-women-abortion-stories)

#3 – On the assumption of “fetal personhood,” the state will allow medical interventions to force women to give birth

Rebecca Kluchin, professor of U.S. women’s history and history of medicine at California State University, Sacramento, argues that “if courts recognize fetal personhood, women’s rights are [and will be] curtailed,” and one outcome will be “forced medical interventions” (https://washingtonpost.com/outlook/2022/05/12/if-courts-recognize-fetal-personhood-womens-rights-are-curtailed).

Antiabortion advocates have been highlighting the argument since 1973 right after Roe v. Wade was approved by the Supreme Court that personhood begins with conception and the creation of an embryo. Kluchin writes: “As soon as the court handed down the decision in Roe in 1973, antiabortion legislators tried to include a Human Life Amendment in the Constitution that said life begins at conception. If the court overturns Roe this summer [2022] as a leaked draft opinion indicates, antiabortion legislators probably will again try to solidify fetal rights at the federal level.”

Kluchin refers to the claim that “the fetus has rights akin to a child already born — originated in the mid-19th century, when Boston physician Horatio Storer led the first movement to criminalize abortion at the state level. Storer and his supporters referred to fetuses as children, and cast abortion as murder and women who underwent the procedure as butchers in need of strong patriarchal guidance.”

The next generation of abortion opponents – “white, male and Catholic –
began to invoke fetuses’ right to life.” By the early 1960s, “they explicitly connected this claim to the Declaration of Independence. Just a few years later, as they rallied to halt the liberalization of abortion laws in states across the nation, antiabortion activists expanded their movement by reaching out to evangelical Christians to help them secure citizenship for the ‘unborn.”

Forced caesarean births

Kluchin recounts a case from 1986 that “makes the violence embedded within the claim of fetal personhood and court-ordered medical treatment clear.” The case involved Ayesha Madyun, nineteen-year-old and pregnant for the first time, who entered the D.C. General hospital, waiting for two days after her water had broken because she lacked health insurance or the financial wherewithal to pay the hospitable bill for these days.” Ayesha entered the hospital only after “substantial contractions began.” But her labor stalled, because, as her husband Mustafaa Madyun believed, hospital staff kept “his wife to bed in a prone position, refusing to allow her to walk or even sit up and kept her attached her to a fetal heart rate monitor.” Sixty-five hours after her water broke, the chief obstetrics and gynecology resident John Cummings insisted that Madyun undergo a Caesarean immediately but was unable to persuade her. Cummings then turned to the courts. There was no indication that the fetus was a risk.

The D.C. Superior Court judge on duty that night, Richard A. Levie, rushed to the hospital to hold an emergency hearing. The lawyer assigned to represent the Madyuns had had less than 30 minutes to interview her clients and no time to consult Ayesha Madyun’s medical records before the hearing began at midnight. The court proceedings took place outside of her room, excluding her from participating.

“At 1:05 a.m., Levie ordered Ayesha Madyun to undergo an immediate Caesarean section. “It is one thing for an adult to gamble with nature regarding his or her own life; it is quite another when the gamble involves the life or death of an unborn infant,” he declared. Two appellate judges upheld the order via phone an hour later. At 3:30 a.m. Madyun delivered a healthy, six-and-a-half-pound baby, Ishaan, via Caesarean section. She likened the surgery to being raped.”

Ayesha Madyun’s case was not that unusual.

“In many forced Caesarean cases, obstetricians, hospital administrators or social workers gained custody of the fetus — while still inside its mother — and used their new authority to compel pregnant women to undergo surgery on behalf of their ward. The court orders expired immediately after birth, at which time mothers gained custody of their newborns.” Then in a 1990 case, In Re Ac, the court reversed its position, allowing “family members of incapacitated patients to make medical decisions on their behalf and supported a patient’s right ‘to accept or refuse medical treatment.’ This decision “significantly reduced the practice of court-ordered Caesareans.”

But, Kluchin warns, if “fetal personhood becomes a legal reality… efforts to force pregnant women to accept medical interventions, including blood transfusions and Caesarean sections,” will become the law of the land.”

#4 – Abortion of even the fertilized egg viewed as “murder”

Kaia Hubbard reports on a Louisiana law that makes abortion murder

(https://usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/2022-05-06/the-push-to-make-fetuses-people-and-abortion-murder). This represents a shift in the goals of the anti-abortion movement. Hubbard delves into the issue as follows.

“Historically, the anti-abortion movement has been hesitant to punish women who choose to terminate a pregnancy, instead painting them as victims to the abortion practice. But recent developments may suggest a future where states pursue criminal charges not only against abortion providers but also against the people seeking them out.”

“The new bill in Louisiana, known as the ‘Abolition of Abortion’ act, is an even more concrete step toward criminalizing the woman rather than the provider by way of making a fetus a human being. The bill says it would ‘ensure the right to life and equal protection of the laws to all unborn children from the moment of fertilization by protecting them by the same laws protecting other human beings,’ going on to dictate that the consequences associated with the homicide of any person would be extended to an unborn child.

“The occurrence is also happening more subtly, in legal moves unrelated to abortion that sought to criminalize pregnant women for harming an “unborn child,” like in South Carolina and Alabama, where the state supreme courts have upheld convictions ruling that substance use in pregnancy constitutes criminal child abuse.

“In reality, the occurrence – of someone being charged with a crime for harming a fetus – is not unusual. As of 2018, at least 38 states had fetal homicide laws conferring rights or protections upon the fetus, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. While some of those laws explicitly set parameters around abortion, excluding it from homicide charges, others make no mention of the procedure. And the charges even appear to have become so prolific that a recent proposal in California would attempt to combat the prosecution of pregnant women for crimes related to pregnancy loss by allowing those who are pregnant to sue prosecutors for incorrectly charging them.”

“In some more recent legislation, the anti-abortion movement also appears to have turned its back on messaging that promoted the ‘health and safety of the mother’ by stripping bills of exemptions to the procedure that have been somewhat common, at least in recent memory: namely, exceptions for incest, rape and the health or wellbeing of the mother.

“Mississippi’s ban beyond 15 weeks of pregnancy, along with Texas’ heartbeat abortion ban and more recently bans that have been signed into law in Florida, Arizona and Oklahoma make no exception for rape or incest, despite pleas from those in opposition decrying the ‘decency’ of those exceptions.”

“In recent weeks, Utah’s Republican Party threatened to take things a step further, announcing that it was considering changing its official stance on abortion to eliminate language that supported exceptions not only for rape or incest but also another commonly held exception to abortion bans: to ‘preserve the life of the mother.’”

However, amid controversy, the Louisiana bill to classify abortion as murder has been withdrawn for the time being, according to reporting by Jessica Kutz (https://truthout.org/arrticles/louisiana-bill-classifying-abortion-as-homicide-receives-backlash-from-the-right).

“The legislation’s singular sponsor, Rep. Danny McCormick, removed the bill, titled the Abolition of Abortion in Louisiana Act of 2022, from consideration for a House vote after a proposed amendment would have stripped the most extreme sections of the legislation, making it more akin to a trigger ban already on the books.

“It’s unclear what the future of the bill is. The amended version specifically says abortion seekers will not be criminalized by the law, but abortion providers could face 10 years in prison and up to a $100,000 fine for performing an abortion at any time during a pregnancy, starting at the moment of fertilization. Those penalties would increase if an abortion was performed after 15 weeks. The law also exempts instances where a pregnant person’s health is in jeopardy, and clarifies that birth control, including IUDs would remain legal.

“The original legislation including the possible homicide charges for abortion seekers passed out of a House committee with a 7-2 vote last Wednesday. Though it failed to move past that, experts said even that step was a marked shift in the abortion debate.

“The measure had received major backlash not just from abortion rights activists but also anti-abortion organizations and politicians, including the Louisiana Family Forum and Louisiana Right to Life. Governor John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who is Catholic and has historically supported anti-abortion legislation, came out forcefully against the original bill, writing in a statement, ‘To suggest that a woman would be jailed for an abortion is simply absurd.’”

Abortion Pills Stand to Become the Next Battleground in a Post-Roe America

Pam Belluck and Sheryl Gay Stolberg refer to how abortion pills are likely to become the next battleground in a Post-Roe America (https://nytimes.com/2022/05/05/health/abortion-pills-roe-v-wade.html).

Pam Belluck is a health and science writer whose honors include sharing a Pulitzer Prize and winning the Nellie Bly Award for Best Front Page Story. She is the author of Island Practice, a book about an unusual doctor.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg is a Washington Correspondent covering health policy. In more than two decades at The Times, she has also covered the White House, Congress and national politics. Previously, at The Los Angeles Times, she shared in two Pulitzer Prizes won by that newspaper’s Metro staff. 

Bottom of Form

“Medication abortion — a two-drug combination that can be taken at home or in any location and is authorized for use in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy — has become more and more prevalent and now accounts for more than half of recent abortions in the United States.” The two drugs are mifepristone and misoprostol.

“For portions of the pandemic, the F.D.A. temporarily lifted the in-person requirement, then permanently removed it in December.” In addition, the agency said pharmacies could begin dispensing the drugs if they met certain qualifications.

“The agency is in the process of hammering out those qualifications with the two manufacturers of the drug, and reproductive health organizations said that some national retail pharmacy chains have expressed interest in being able to dispense the medication in some states, at least by mail.

Interest in the pills for medication abortions will likely rise if there is a ban on abortion. Belluck and Stolberg quote Mary Ziegler, a legal scholar who has written widely on abortion. Ziegler says, “Given that most abortions are early and medication abortion is harder to trace and already kind of becoming the majority or preferred method, it’s going to be a big deal. It’s going to generate a lot of forthcoming legal conflicts because it’s just going to be a way that state borders are going to become less relevant.”

In December [2021], the Food and Drug Administration made access abortion medications “significantly easier by lifting the requirement that patients obtain the first of the two pills, mifepristone, by visiting an authorized clinic or doctor in person. Now, patients can have a consultation with a physician via video or phone or by filling out online forms, and then receive the pills by mail.

“But,” Belluck and Stolberg continue, “many conservative states have already begun passing laws to restrict medication abortion, including banning it earlier than 10 weeks’ gestation and requiring patients to visit providers in person despite F.D.A. rules. Nineteen states ban the use of telemedicine for abortion. This year, Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion advocacy group, listed laws against medication abortion as first among the organization’s ‘pressing priorities’ for 2022.

“‘In the last year, Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas have enacted state-level safeguards to stop mail-order abortion drugs, and the Tennessee Legislature recently sent such protections to Gov. Bill Lee,’ Mallory Carroll, an official with Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group, said. “In addition to creating health and safety standards, states are also increasing requirements for reporting complications from abortion drugs. We will be working with allies in additional states to tackle this growing public health threat.”

“Residents of states that would quickly ban all abortion methods if Roe were overturned — including Texas, Missouri, Utah and Tennessee — would be legally prohibited from having telemedicine abortion consultations from any location in their state, even if the doctor were located in a state with legal abortion. Such patients would have to travel to a state where an online, video or phone consultation is legal — the IP address of the computer or phone they were using would identify where they were located. Then, they would have to receive the pills by mail at an address in a state with legal abortion, even if it were a post office box or a hotel.

“Some patients are already doing this because they live in one of the states that ban the use of telemedicine for abortion. Some aspects of those laws are unclear, including whether patients who take the pills after returning to their home state are violating their state’s law.

“Several organizations, including Abortion on Demand and Hey Jane, now arrange telemedicine or online consultations and mail pills from one of two mail-order pharmacies that are currently authorized by the two mifepristone manufacturers to dispense that medication.

“‘But abortion opponents and states that outlaw abortion are likely to try to challenge or curtail the ability of patients to cross state lines to get the pills, legal experts said. There may be attempts by states that ban abortion to prosecute doctors and other health providers in states where abortion is legal, for example, or to try to block organizations or funds that provide financial help for patients to travel to other states,’ Professor Ziegler said.”

“States that support abortion rights are mobilizing to block such efforts. Legislation in California would provide financial assistance to patients traveling from other states to obtain abortions and increase the number of abortion providers. Connecticut just passed a bill that would prevent abortion providers from being extradited to other states, bar Connecticut authorities from cooperating with abortion investigations from a patient’s home state and allow Connecticut residents who are sued under another state’s abortion provision to countersue.”

“Because the F.D.A. has approved abortion pills as safe and effective and set forth a regimen by which they have to be dispensed, states are not allowed to do anything different, because federal law pre-empts or is supreme over state law,” said David Cohen, an expert in gender and constitutional law at Drexel University’s law school.

“But Lawrence Gostin, an expert in health law at Georgetown University, said there would also be a strong counterargument: that regulation of the medical profession is the province of states, which can therefore regulate what pharmacies prescribe.

“Reproductive health experts also predict that more patients will be ordering abortion pills from overseas, through websites like Aid Access — an international organization run by a physician that mails pills — a practice the F.D.A. has tried to stop.

“Professor Ziegler and others said it is hard for states or the federal government to stop or interdict the mailing of abortion pills because of the practical difficulties of tracking and identifying every such package.”

Concluding thoughts

America is under a number of internally generated threats to democracy. The anti-abortion movement is one of them. In this case, the anti-abortion movement that has used court challenges, protests, civil disobedience, and violence to overturn Roe v. Wade. It is advanced as well by the Republican Party, Trump, the majority of its Party’s electoral base, segments of the rich and corporate communities, conservative religious groups, and right-wing media.  

In the final analysis, the defense of the reproductive rights of women to obtain a legal abortion faces strong political headwinds. It is one of the highly partisan political battles that will determine whether America’s women will have reasonable control over their reproductive decisions or not. Normally, the outcome would rest on which side can most effectively educate and mobilize supporters and get them to act and vote. However, Republicans are doing their best to create electoral rules that will nullify the votes of the opposition.

So, in the final analysis, the battle over reproductive rights is tied up not only with legal arguments over the Constitution but also with the relative political power of the two major parties and their supporters

A militarizing world in the shadow of the Ukraine War

Bob Sheak

May 8, 2022

This post focuses on the Ukraine War and presents updated information and raises and addresses important issues. The main points are as follows. One, inspired by the Ukrainian resistance to the Russian invasion, the US and its allies are increasing military spending significantly, enabling the resistance to push back against Russian ground forces. Two, I refer to updated figures on the destruction, death, and displacement of Ukrainians generated by the Russian war. Three, I refer to the goals in the war of Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelensky and Russian head of state Vladimir Putin and the lack yet of meaningful negotiations. Four, I raise questions about the argument that Ukraine can win the war and drive the Russians out of the entire country. Five, Putin has said that he would, under certain circumstances, use nuclear weapons. I discuss the dangers. Six, I discuss the sanctions imposed on Russia by the US and some allies, how they are working, the limits of sanctions, and how they gave a particularly severe impact on low-income countries. Seven, I touch on the reasons why Putin wants to basically annex the Donbas and the southern part of Ukraine. And, eight, what to expect in coming months.

US support for Ukraine is increasing

Support for increasing military aid, inspired by Ukrainian resistance

The Washington Post editorial staff captures the current dominant narrative regarding what the US should do directly to assist Ukraine forces in Putin’s “war” on the country. Putin refers to it as “a special military operation.” Whatever the name, the WP editors take the position that the US should not only continue but increase its military support of Ukraine (https://washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/04/30/defeating-vladimit-putin-ukraine-war-requires-larger-risks). They, along with the US government and a majority of the public, are impressed with the resistance put forth by the Ukrainians, especially the defense of the capital Kiev. And it is clear that Ukraine needs ongoing and increased military assistance against the Russian onslaught. The assumption behind giving military assistance to Ukraine is that Moscow will not relent in its calamitous path. Therefore, the US and other countries must continue and escalate support for Ukraine now and for the foreseeable future, as long as the Ukrainians are able and willing to go on fighting.

It will be a costly and probably long-lasting war

The Washington Post editors write, “a longer, more costly military struggle looms. Russia’s aim is to push westward from its redoubts in Crimea and Donbas, eventually breaking through and encircling Ukrainian forces. Stopping this is the reason Ukraine needed an immediate infusion of heavy weaponry; actually enabling Ukraine to go on the counteroffensive later this spring and summer is the reason it will need still more in the coming weeks. Thus, President Biden’s request for $33 billion in new aid for Ukraine, of which $20 billion will be military, was not only appropriate but urgent, and Congress should respond accordingly. Coupled with the recent approval of a revived ‘lend-lease’ system, Mr. Biden’s proposal puts the United States in position to bolster Ukraine over the long haul.”

In an update on May 3 for CNBC, Amanda Macias reports that “President Joe Biden called on Congress to quickly pass $33 billion in additional U.S. assistance to Ukraine, as the war-weary country approaches its 10th week of fighting off a Russian invasion” (https://www.cnbc.com/2022/05/03/russia-ukraine-live-updates.html). She adds: “Biden’s latest military aid package of $800 million was announced on April 21, the eighth such installment of security assistance. It brought the U.S. weapons and security commitment to Ukraine up to $3.4 billion just since Russia’s late February invasion.” Of the most recent request for $33 military aid, $20 billion would be for weapons, with additional funding “to help Ukraine run its government and money for additional humanitarian and food aid.”

Spencer Bokat-Lindell notes that, if the $33 billion in requested aid is passed by the US Congress, the US will then have “authorized a total of $46.6 billion for the war, equal to more than two-thirds of Russia’s entire annual defense budget (https://nytimes.com/2022/05/04/opinion/peace-ukraine.html). European countries are also sending military aid to Ukraine. According to Bokat-Lindell, “France, Britain and other NATO allies have also scaled up their donations.”

Recent polls indicate a majority of Americans support the position of the Biden administration (https://washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/05/02/poll-ukraine-support-biden).

The Biden administration’s current hope is that military support for Ukraine – along with economic sanctions – will ultimately make Putin realize that the cost of trying to destroy Ukraine as an independent state is ultimately too costly. However, it may take years, if ever, to reach such a turning point. Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff “told the House Armed Services Committee that he expects the conflict in Ukraine to last for years” (https://thehill.com/news/3260171-top-us-general-says-he-expects-russia-ukraine-conflict-to-be-measured-in-years). And, sadly, if the war goes on as it has, what will be left of Ukraine? Putin seems bent on either subjugating or devastating the country, while controlling no matter what parts of the country. The US and allies support Ukraine to avoid such calamitous outcomes.

Spencer Bokat-Lindell reports on how the US involvement in Ukraine has escalated (https://nytimes.com/2022/05/04/opinion/peace-ukraine.html).

“In recent weeks, U.S. war aims have expanded beyond defending Ukrainian sovereignty, raising the stakes of the conflict even higher. After a recent trip to Kyiv with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, ‘We want to see Russia weakened to the degree it cannot do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.’

Bokat-Lindell quotes an article by Robin Wright, who writes that “the U.S. role has evolved — from a reactive response to Russia’s unjustified war to a proactive assertion of American leadership and leverage’ and that “Putin’s rhetoric has, in turn, become bolder and more aggressive. The war could now play out in many disparate ways,” according to Wright. “Each carries its own dangers — for the U.S. as well as Ukraine.”

Even nuclear war?

“One of those dangers, of course, is nuclear war. Last week, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said that he viewed NATO as being engaged in a proxy war with Russia by supplying weaponry to Ukraine, raising the odds of nuclear conflict. ‘The danger is serious, real,’ he said. ‘It must not be underestimated.’

“Some analysts believe these threats are empty. But The Times’s David Sanger reports that some U.S. officials are indeed taking seriously the risk of Putin turning to stepped-up cyberattacks on Western infrastructure, chemical weapons or his arsenal of tactical, ‘battlefield’ nuclear weapons.” It’s one of the reasons, the US has avoided supplying Ukraine with the fighter planes or the weapons that would enable Ukraine’s army to strike targets in Russia. However, the US reluctance on this score may gradually lessen as the Russian military continues its destruction of Ukraine.

Russia has already caused massive destruction, death, and displacement

The Russian assault

In an update, CNBC’s Amanda Macias cites a senior US Defense official who said “Russian forces are carrying out about 40 to 50 missile strikes a day against Ukraine, with a high focus on the Donbas region and north of Mariupol” (https://cnbc.com/2022/05/04/russia-ukraine-live-updates.html).

She added the following information.

“The U.S. has observed Russian aircraft fly nearly 250 sorties over Ukraine, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to share updates on the ongoing war in Ukraine.

“‘They are still hitting Mariupol and they are still wary of flying in Ukrainian airspace so they’re largely launching these things from outside Ukrainian airspace to the degree that they can.’

“The airstrikes are largely targeting Ukrainian critical infrastructure, including electricity and railroads, according to evolving U.S. military intelligence. The official said that so far the strikes have not had an appreciable impact on Ukraine’s ability to continue the fight.” At the same time, “the U.K. defense ministry said Russia is probably unable to effectively discriminate targets when conducting air strikes in Mariupol [and elsewhere] because of its likely use of unguided free-falling bombs,” which also increase the risk of civilian casualties.

Physical damage and economic costs

The World Bank estimated on April 21 that Ukraine had already suffered “physical damage at roughly $60 billion so far,” as reported by David Lawder and Chris Gallagher (https://reuters.com/world/world-bank-estimates-ukraine-physical-damage-roughly-60-billion-so-far-2022-04-21). The Bank said that the damage will rise as the war continues. Ongoing news coverage of the war clearly documents that the Russian bombardment of Ukraine continues to be extensive and highly destructive. World Bank President David Malpass “told a World Bank conference on Ukraine’s financial assistance needs that the early estimate of ‘narrow’ damage costs does not include the growing economic costs of the war to Ukraine.”

In a virtual address to the conference, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky

“told participants in interpreted remarks that Ukraine needs $7 billion per month to make up for economic losses caused by Russia’s invasion of his country.” Zelensky added: “we will need hundreds of billions of dollars to rebuild all this later.” He also said that some of the money for reconstruction could come after the war from the “sanctions and freezes on Russian assets.” US Secretary Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, also attending the conference, agree that “Russia should shoulder some of Ukraine’s rebuilding costs.”

“Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, who attended the conference in person, said “[i]f we do not stop this war together, the losses will increase dramatically,” adding that Ukraine would need a rebuilding plan similar to the post-World War Two Marshall Plan that helped to rebuild a war ravaged” continent.

Ukrainian deaths and casualties from Russia’s invasion

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) verified a total of 3,280 civilian deaths as of May 4, 2022, and 3,280 injuries (https://statistica.com/statistics/1293492/ukraine-war-casualties). OHCHR acknowledges these are under-estimates.

Other estimates suggest much higher rates of civilian casualties. Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko says more than 20,000 civilians have been killed in the city, according to a report on April 11 by David Child and his colleagues for Aljazeera (https://aljazeera.com/news/2022/04/11/three-killed-in-russian-attacks-ukraine-donetsk-liveblog). They add: “The mayor of Bucha reveals authorities in the Ukrainian town have found 403 bodies of people [in a mass grave] they believe were killed by Russian forces.” In addition, they write, “The United Nations demands an independent investigation into allegations that Russian forces have raped women and committed other forms of sexual violence.”

There are also reports of “mass graves,” identified by satellite imagery. Mass graves have been identified outside the city of Mariupol (https://cnn.com/2022/04/22/europe/mariupol-ukraine-inti-hnk/index.html), in Vinohradne, 7.5 miles from Mariupol (https://usatoday.com/picture-gallery/news/world/2022/04/26/mass-grave-sites-discovered-ukraine-grim-signs-death-toll/9538928002), and in Bucha outside of Kiev (https://cnn.com/2022/04/03/europe/ukraine-bucha-horros/index.html).

Displacement – to  where?

The BBC refers to estimates by the United Nations, as of May 6, 2022 (https://bbc.com/news/world-60555472).

The estimates indicate that over 5.7 million have fled their homes, with 3,143,550 going to Poland, 856,941 to Romania, 727,712 to Russia, 551,000 to Hungary, 452,038 to Moldavia, 391,592 to Slovakia, and 26,149 to Belarus. Unspecified, but much smaller numbers, have gone to countries in Europe, the US, and other locations. The BBC report notes, for example, that the “EU has granted Ukrainians who flee the war a blanket right to stay and work throughout its 27 member nations for up to three years” and “will also receive social welfare and access to housing, medical treatment and schools.”

Biden administration has rolled out plan for Ukrainian refugees, as reported by Maria Sacchetti (https://washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/04/22/biden-ukraine-refugees-resettlement-united-states). A month ago, back in March, “President Biden pledged…to accept as many as 100,000 Ukrainians, about 2 percent of the refugees, but the administration has not offered clear guidance on the process until now. Approximately 15,000 Ukrainians have arrived without permission over the past three months, mostly at the U.S.-Mexico border, senior administration officials said in a conference call with reporters Thursday, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the new program.”

Sacchetti continues. “The State Department and the Department of Homeland Security said they are creating a new “‘streamlined’ program called Uniting for Ukraine that will grant most refugees ‘humanitarian parole’ to come to the United States for up to two years, as long as they have a sponsor willing to support them.”

The program “will provide an expedient channel for secure, legal migration from Europe to the United States for Ukrainians who have a U.S. sponsor, such as a family or an NGO,” Biden said.” Sponsors could be “ordinary citizens and organizations such as churches … but officials also warned that Ukrainians attempting to cross via Mexico will be denied entry starting next week.”

However, Sacchetti points out, “Ukrainians cannot directly apply to the parole program. Instead, starting Monday [April 25], U.S.-based sponsors such as private citizens, churches and civic groups may apply online to the Department of Homeland Security to sponsor Ukrainian citizens.” Many refugees applying to the new program “are expected to have relatives in the United States who could sponsor them, officials said. More than 1 million people of Ukrainian descent live in the United States, with significant numbers in states such as New York, California, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.” There are also “organizations such as Welcome.US, an effort led by former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush to aid refugees, are expected to help, along with a number of Ukrainian American civic and church groups and ordinary citizens.

Sponsors “must clear background screenings and declare that they will support the new arrivals financially.” Additionally, Ukrainians must meet certain eligibility requirements, namely, they “must have resided in their homeland as of Feb. 11, just before Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion, and pass security checks and meet vaccine requirements.”

The UN also estimates that 6.5 million Ukrainians have been internally displaced, that is fleeing their homes but remaining in the country. These estimates are based on research carried out by the International Organization of Migration (IOM) between March 9 and 16. So this estimate is likely to be higher now. “The IOM estimates that more than half of the people who are internally displaced are women, and many are deemed particularly vulnerable because they are pregnant, have a disability or are a victim of violence.”

The estimates also indicate that about “12 million people are…thought to be stranded or unable to leave areas affected by the fighting.”

The overall total of people in these three categories comes to 14.2 million. This is out of a total population of 41.5 million. Thus, about 34 percent of Ukraine’s population are refugees, internally displaced, or stranded. This is a mind-boggling, morally-wrenching situation caused by Russia’s destructive, law-breaking invasion. Bear in mind, the invasion was only launched on February 24, 2022, just over 10 weeks from ago (as of May 6, 2022). With no negotiated settlement in sight, the near-term future of Ukraine looks grim, that is, unless Ukrainian forces can begin to repulse the invaders. Otherwise, it may the war may continue.

What does Ukraine’s President Zelensky hope for?

Despite the vast military advantage Russia has over Ukraine, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told CNN’s Jake Tapper on April 15, as reported by Jeremy Herb, that Ukraine is not willing to give up territory in the eastern part of the country to end the war with Russia, and Ukraine’s military is prepared to fight Moscow’s military in the Donbas region in a battle he says could influence the course of the entire war” (https://www.cnn.com/2022/04/17/politics/zelensky-russia-war-tapper-interview-cnntv/index.html). Zelensky told Tapper that the weapons supplied by the US and the West are important but they need more weapons. He also told Tapper that he’s prepared to engage with Russia diplomatically to try to end the war but that Russia’s attacks [and negotiating demands] on Ukrainians make it harder to do.”

The question continues to be whether Russia will ever agree to stop its war and negotiate. Right now, the terms that Russia might accept (see in the next section) appear to be unacceptable to the Ukrainian government. In the absence of a Ukrainian victory in the war and in the absence of viable negotiations, the unmitigated and law-breaking destruction by the Russian forces is ongoing.

What does Putin want?

Bogat-Lindell refers to what Russia sees as possible grounds for a negotiated settlement. It would give Russia control of large areas of the eastern and southern parts of the country. “In March,” he writes, “the Kremlin said it would halt its assault on Ukraine if Kyiv met several conditions: commit to never join NATO; rid itself of any weapons that could pose a threat to Russia; recognize the annexed Crimean Peninsula as Russian territory; and recognize Ukraine’s Russian-occupied regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent republics.”

Bogat-Lindell recognizes the desirability of a negotiated settlement between Ukraine and Russia, but Russia’s terms are harsh.

He also raises another issue, namely, that, while the Russian attacks continue, the US should enter into parallel negotiations with the Kremlin to resolve the issues involving NATO expansion and sanctions and that such discussions might increase the chances for an eventual peace agreement that is less one-sided than now proposed by Moscow.

He continues.

“We can’t know for certain whether more rigorous U.S.-Russia diplomacy — including discussions surrounding NATO expansion and Ukrainian neutrality — might have succeeded in preventing Russia’s invasion,” writes Alex Jordan at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. “We won’t know because it was — according to White House officials — never really tried.”

“NATO itself also needs to clarify its objectives, what it is willing to compromise on and how, argues Rajan Menon, a senior research fellow at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University. Does NATO want to maintain sanctions indefinitely to diminish Russia’s power, or are there conditions it could meet to lift them? ‘It is within Putin’s power to wind down this war,’ he writes, ‘but what NATO does matters as well.’

“And if the goal is still a negotiated settlement, ‘We need to find a way of somehow discreetly conveying to the Russians that we would be willing to ease sanctions,’ George Beebe, a former chief of Russia analysis for the C.I.A., said. ‘The military aid to Ukraine could also be used as leverage.’

“Don’t give up completely on diplomacy. Even though U.S.-Russia relations are at a nadir, Fred Kaplan points out in Slate that the two countries still managed to carry out an elaborately planned prisoner exchange last week.”

An argument that says Ukraine can win the war

There are also analysts who think Ukraine can eventually defeat the Russians. In a column for the Washington Post, Max Boot argues that “Ukraine can win” (https://washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/05/02/west-should-not-fear-russia-escalation-threat-urkaine-war). If the Ukrainian forces with foreign military aid can defeat the Russians on the battlefield, then the need for a negotiated agreement would be irrelevant. Boot sees this as a possibility.

He points out that the Russians have already lost the battle of Kyiv. Now Vladimir Putin “is trying to salvage military success in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. His army’s progress has been ‘slow and uneven,’ and that’s even before all of the heavy weaponry committed by the West reaches the defenders. Once the Ukrainian armed forces incorporate all of their new equipment, they should be poised to launch a counteroffensive that could regain lost territory.”

In the absence of Russian military progress in the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, Putin could “announce an expanded war effort in Ukraine. Having previously tried to pass off the invasion as a ‘special military operation,’ he could now declare war and announce a total, World War II-style mobilization. He might imagine that he could crush Ukraine with vastly more tanks and troops. But that will risk social unrest [in Russia] and still probably won’t deliver victory.”

Boot argues that Russia does not have a strong enough military to succeed even if he declares the conflict to be a full-blown war. He questions whether Russia has enough well-trained troops to advance the war, or enough up-dated equipment for such an invading army, or the logistical know how to continuously supply such a force. He also argues that Putin is not unhinged enough to employ nuclear weapons On the capabilities of the Russian military, Boot writes:

“On paper, Russia has more than 2 million former servicemen in reserve, but, according to the Institute for the Study of War, few of them receive any refresher training. A 2019 Rand report found that only 4,000 to 5,000 reservists would be considered comparable to U.S. National Guard or reserve members. The defense ministry launched an initiative in 2021 to expand the reserves to 80,000 to 100,000 troops, but there is no indication that this ambitious objective is being achieved.”

Furthermore:

“Even if Russia were to throw vast numbers of ill-trained conscripts into battle, it would have difficulty equipping them. The Russians claim to have more than 10,000 tanks and 36,000 other armored vehicles in storage, but most are likely antiquated and dilapidated. Russia is losing its best military equipment in Ukraine and will find it hard to field replacements. Western sanctions are strangling Russian military production lines by stopping the flow of microchips.”

As already noted, Boot does not think Putin would resort to using nuclear weapons, though, if and when Russia is losing the war, the Russian leader might order the use of “nuclear weapons against Ukrainian bases or population centers,” implying the use of tactical nuclear weapons. Even then, Boot argues, “NATO could launch [non-nuclear] airstrikes that would rapidly sink the entire Russian Black Sea fleet and destroy much of the Russian army in and around Ukraine. That would shake Putin’s criminal regime to its foundations.”

Questions

Boot’s argument for winning the war assume that the Russian army will ultimately be defeated by Ukrainian forces and driven out of the country. Indeed, Ukrainians have done better so far in the ground war than expected, with increasing support from the US and its allies. But Boot’s argument may under-estimate the impact of the sheer size of the Russian military forces, the large population it can draw on for recruits, however ill prepared, and the fact that, with its air force, artillery, naval and submarine lunched bombs and missiles, it has been able to deliver a level of destruction, death and displacement not seen in Europe since WWII.

There is also a good chance that Putin will further escalate the war, increasingly targeting the railroads, roads and bridges by which weapons are brought from Poland and elsewhere into Ukraine. Tom Nichols writes this:

“…Putin might call for a final push to overwhelm the Ukrainians by throwing men and machines into a meat grinder. This war was a deluded scheme hatched in Putin’s COVID-isolated bubble, and even now Putin seems truly unable to understand the disaster he’s unleashed on Ukraine and the damage he’s done to Russia. Advised by a tight circle of hawks—some of whom will fear getting tagged with blame if things continue to deteriorate—he might see doubling down as a realistic option” (https://theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2022/05/putin-speech-may-9-victory-day-russia/629742).

Tactical nuclear weapons – a misnomer

It is also important that all sides understand the meaning and terrible consequences of the use of “tactical nuclear weapons.” Boot seems somewhat blasé about such a potential situation.  

Nina Tannenwald, who teaches international relations in the Political Science Department at Brown University and has published on the non-use of nuclear weapons since 1945, worries about how Putin would respond to a situation in which Russia is losing the war in Ukraine (https://scientificamerican.com/article/limited-tactical-weapons-would-be-catastrophic).

Putin already “has given orders to increase the alert level of Russia’s nuclear forces and has made veiled nuclear threats. The blatant aggression against Ukraine has shocked Europe and the world. The war is a tragedy for Ukraine. It also exposes the limits of the West’s reliance on nuclear deterrence,” or the idea “that possessing nuclear weapons protects a nation from attack, through the threat of overwhelming retaliation. This concept is widely credited for helping prevent war between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.” However, Putin now is ignoring the old idea of “deterrence” and threatening to use at least tactical nuclear weapons if his forces are losing the war. Tannenwald reminds us that nuclear weapons, smaller or larger, are more destructive in their impacts than even the largest conventional weapons. It may be that Putin is as naive about the effects of such weapons as Trump. She writes:

“In the world of nuclear weapons, tactical means an exceedingly large amount of explosive energy and strategic means even larger. Most nuclear weapons today are variable-yield, or “dial-a-yield,” providing a set amount of explosive energy that can range from fractions of a kiloton to multiples of a megaton. (For example, the U.S.’s newest version of its B61 nuclear bomb can release 0.3, 1.5, 10 or 50 kilotons of explosive energy. In comparison, the Hiroshima bomb was about 15 kilotons.) Russia has about 4,500 nuclear warheads in its arsenal. Of these, the ones of largest yield—the “strategic” weapons—are deployed on submarines, bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

“But Russia also possesses some 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons kept in storage facilities throughout the country, developed to be used against troops and installations in a small area or in a limited engagement. Such weapons can be launched on the same short-range missiles Russia is currently using to bombard Ukraine, such as its Iskander ballistic missile, which has a range of about 500 kilometers. And these are not the only tactical weapons that could be deployed; the United States has about 100 nuclear “gravity bombs” (with less sophisticated guidance) stationed around Europe.”

Tannenwald’s major point: “No one should imagine, however, that it makes sense to use a tactical nuclear weapon. A thermonuclear explosion of any size possesses overwhelming destructive power. Even a “small-yield” nuclear weapon (0.3 kilotons) would produce damage far beyond that of a conventional explosive….It would also cause all the horrors of Hiroshima, albeit on a smaller scale [unless more than one tactical nuclear bomb was dropped]. A tactical nuclear weapon would produce a fireball, shock waves, and deadly radiation that would cause long-term health damage in survivors. Additionally:

“Radioactive fallout would contaminate air, soil, water and the food supply (Ukrainians are already familiar with this kind of outcome because of the disastrous meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in 1986).

“No one knows if using a tactical nuclear weapon would trigger full-scale nuclear war. Nevertheless, the risk of escalation is very real. Those on the receiving end of a nuclear strike are not likely to ask whether it was tactical or strategic. In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee on February 6, 2018, then–Secretary of Defense James Mattis stated ‘I do not think there is any such thing as a tactical nuclear weapon. Any nuclear weapon used any time is a strategic game changer.’” Russian leaders have made clear that they would view any nuclear attack as the start of an all-out nuclear war.

“Especially worrisome is the possibility that the war could escalate to the use of nuclear weapons. By increasing the alert level of Russian nuclear forces, Putin increases the risk of nuclear use through miscalculation or accident in the fog of war. In the worst scenario, if the war is going badly, Putin could reach for a tactical nuclear weapon out of desperation. While this is still unlikely, the risk is not zero.”

Tannenwald continues. “And increasing that risk is unacceptable. Although innumerable nuclear weapons have been tested over the years, not one has been used in warfare (or terrorism) since 1945. The 77-year-old tradition of nuclear nonuse—the nuclear taboo—is the single most important accomplishment of the nuclear age. It is a primary obligation of leaders today to make sure nuclear weapons are never used again. Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov should stop threatening nuclear weapons. Other leaders should express shock and outrage, and make it clear that nuclear threats are irresponsible and unacceptable.”

She concludes: “This war will likely upend the European security order. It also demonstrates how little real protection nuclear weapons provide. The world would be better off without these weapons.”

What about the sanctions?

In a post I sent out on April 22, “The effects of Putin’s brutal invasion,” I wrote the following on US sanctions.

“There are other important issues stemming from Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine. For example, the US and allied imposition of sanctions is a significant issue. The sanctions – and they are being increased over time – are designed to reduce the foreign wealth assets of Putin and Russian oligarchs, to persuade American and Western companies to leave Russia, to drive down the availability of products available to Russian consumers and undermine the Russian economy, to have Russia default on his foreign loan obligations, to reduce access to dollar-based currency, to induce Germany and other countries to make plans to reduce their purchase of Russian natural gas and oil, and to curtail agricultural and other export products from Russia. The New York Times provides an extensive list of the sanctions imposed by the US (https://nytimes.com/article/russia-us-ukraine-sanctions.html).

Here I present two different views on the effectiveness of sanctions.

Yes, sanctions are having the desired effect on the Russian economy

Jen Kirby gives a rundown of the effects of the sanctions imposed by the US and its allies as of early May and argues that are having the desired effect on “dismantling the Russian economy” (https://vox.com/23049187/russia-sanctions-ukraine-rubble). He writes: “The United States and its allies imposed unprecedented economic sanctions on Russia in the wake of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The swiftness and intensity of the penalties crashed the ruble, forced the Russian stock market to close, and sent Russians to line up at ATMs to withdraw dollars from their bank accounts.”

Despite the Kremlin’s attempt to ease the impact, “[t]he West’s sanctions are isolating Russia, cutting it off from key imports that it needs for commercial goods and its own manufacturing to make its economy work. That means high-tech imports like microchips, to develop advanced weaponry. But it also means buttons for shirts.” Kirby quotes Maria Shagina, a visiting fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

“Russia is facing a deep recession, one the Bank of Russia says will be ‘a transformational nature.’ The Finance Ministry has predicted the Russian GDP will shrink by about 8.8 percent in 2022. Inflation is expected to clock in as high as 23 percent this year. Russia is looking at a looming debt default. All of this will mean hardship for ordinary Russians, who are already seeing their real incomes shrink. Some tens of thousands have tried to flee, especially those in tech, prompting a potential ‘brain drain.’ And these are the things we know; Russia will cease publishing a lot of economic data, a tactic, experts said, Moscow has used before to obscure the effects of sanctions.

The US and European allies are adding more penalties as Putin’s war continues. “The EU has proposed a phase-out of Russian oil products.” For the time being, however, Russia “is still exporting a lot of gas and oil, including to places like Europe, which gets one-third of its natural gas imports from Russia.” Eventually, the sanctions on gas and oil will intensify the economic pain in Russia.

“Oil and gas revenues help, but if sanctions against energy tighten, as with the EU’s proposal for a gradual oil ban, or Russia is forced to sell its gas on the cheap — or if the threat of running afoul of sanctions deters even the bargain hunters — the safety net frays over time. Russia has already said oil output is expected to decline as sanctions hinder investments and trade.”

The overall impact of the sanctions will be to increasingly isolate Russia’s economy over time. “Data from other countries has shown that it is already beginning to happen, as imports to Russia are crashing. For example, Finland’s exports to Russia are down 60 percent; South Korea’s are down about 62 percent.

Kirby refers to other effects as well.

No, the sanctions will not bring Putin to the table

Jeffrey D. Sachs lists six problematic and limiting aspects of sanctions (https://commondreams.org/views/2022/04/21/only-answer-war-ukraine-negotiated-peace-deal). He is a University Professor and Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, where he directed The Earth Institute from 2002 until 2016. He is also President of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and a commissioner of the UN Broadband Commission for Development.

“The first is that even as sanctions cause economic distress in Russia, they are unlikely to change Russian politics or policies in any decisive way. Think of the harsh sanctions the US has imposed on Venezuela, Iran and North Korea. Yes, they’ve weakened these economies, but they’ve not changed the politics or policies of these countries in the ways the US government has sought.

“The second problem is that sanctions are easy to evade at least in part, and more evasions are likely to emerge over time. The US sanctions apply most effectively to dollar-based transactions involving the US banking system. Countries seeking to evade the sanctions find ways to make transactions through non-bank or non-dollar means. We can expect a rising number of transactions with Russia in rubles, rupees, renminbi and other non-dollar currencies.

“The third and related problem is that most of the world does not believe in the sanctions—and also does not take sides in the Russia-Ukraine war. Add up all of the countries and regions imposing sanctions on Russia—the US, UK, European Union, Japan, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and a handful of others—and their combined population comes to just 14% of the world population.

“The fourth problem is the boomerang effect. Sanctions on Russia hurt not just Russia but the entire world economy, stoking supply-chain disruptions, inflation and food shortages. This is why many European countries are likely to continue to import gas and oil from Russia, and why Hungary and perhaps some other European countries will agree to pay Russia in rubles. The boomerang effect will also likely hurt Democrats in this November’s midterm elections as inflation eats away at the real earnings of voters.

“The fifth problem is the inelastic (price-insensitive) demand for Russia’s energy and grain exports. As the quantity of Russian exports is reduced, the world prices of those commodities increase. Russia can end up with lower export volumes but nearly the same or even higher export earnings.

“The sixth problem is geopolitical. Other countries—and most importantly China—see the Russia-Ukraine war at least in part as a war in which Russia is resisting NATO enlargement to Ukraine. That’s why China repeatedly argues that Russia’s legitimate security interests are at stake in the war.”

The global economic shock of the sanctions

In the meantime, the destruction, disruption, and death continue in Ukraine, with the effects of the war reverberating around the world, as supply chains are disrupted and shortages of gas and oil, food, and important industrial commodities (e.g., computer chips) lead to rising prices across the world, with particularly serious economic impacts on people in low-income countries.

Democracy Now devoted part of its program on May 5 to the impacts of the war in Ukraine on food prices and access in low-income countries

(https://www.democracynow.org/2022/5/5/ukraine_war_causing_food_crisis_africa). Here’s their overview.

“This week U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres is in Nigeria, where he warned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is leading to a growing hunger crisis in Africa. A new report by Human Rights Watch finds the Russian invasion of Ukraine has worsened food insecurity, particularly for African countries that were already experiencing a hunger crisis. Russia and Ukraine are leading exporters of wheat and other grains, while countries such as Cameroon, Nigeria and Uganda are among the largest importers. With climate change and trade stalled by the coronavirus pandemic, ‘all these changes within the availability of food has sent the food prices to new levels,’ says Lena Simet, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. Advocates are calling on exporting countries such as the United States and Canada to ‘open their markets, to not introduce export restrictions, and provide essential grains at an affordable price to humanitarian organizations,’ she adds.”

Patrick Cockburn, investigative journalist and the author of War in the Age of Trump, addresses the crisis-spreading effects of Putin’s war on Ukraine on global grain supply and access (https://counterpunch.org/2022/04/28/241051). He writes:

“In small and large ways, the war in Ukraine is affecting the rest of the world, but nowhere is its effect more devastating than on countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and South Sudan, to name but four, which have been torn apart by decades of warfare. For them the Ukraine crisis is the final destructive blow for weak governments and societies that are barely holding together.

“Some 80 per cent of Syrians are rated as impoverished with many on the edge of starvation, while 12.4 million are described by the World Food Programme as being ‘food insecure.’

“Many are jobless or grossly underpaid after a collapse in the Syrian currency caused by harsher American sanctions in 2020 that established what amounts to an economic siege.”

Cockburn continues.

“The economies of these shattered countries in the Middle East and Africa were already close to capsizing because of endless military conflicts before the war in Ukraine began, but they are now close to sinking entirely.

“Catastrophic though their situation is there is limited international interest in their plight because world attention is fixated on Ukraine and what is fast becoming a proxy war between Russia and the US.”

Cockburn cites Matthew Hollingworth, the South Sudan country director of the World Food Programme (WFP), [who] says that of the 7.4 million people suffering from food shortages in South Sudan the WFP will only be able to feed 4.4 million because there is not enough money to pay for more rations.”

What to expect?

The Russian war in Ukraine is likely to continue for far longer than Putin expected in February, believing that Russian troops would face little resistance, be able to take over control of the capital Kiev, and then move ahead in to make the entire Ukraine a part of the recreated Russian empire. Nonetheless, it appears now that Putin will remain in power, despite the costs of the war, despite troop casualties, despite the economic hardship from the war and sanctions on Russia’s economy, Putin and his inner circle, and the general population.

Focusing on the Donbas

There are indications that Putin has modified his ambitions and would settle for an agreement that gave him control of the Donbas, having failed to make progress in other parts of Ukraine. Holly Ellyatt considers three reasons why the Donbas is important to Putin’s war (https://CNBC.com/2922/04/19/why-does-russia-want-the-donbas-region-so-much.html).

ONE, “Russia needs a victory,” and “the Donbas region includes two Russian-backed separatist ‘republics in Luhansk and Donetsk, in which Russian troops and separatists have been fighting Ukrainians since 2014.” Ellyatt quotes former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, who says, “Putin has given up on his more ambitious goals completely,” and has changed the name of the war to “special military operation in defense of Donbas.’”

Putin and his inner-circle of advisers are now focusing their “efforts on the complete takeovers of key strategic cities in southern Ukraine and on the Black Sea, for example the port cities of Mykolaiv, Mariupol and Kherson. The latter two are almost completely in Russian control, despite pockets of fierce resistance from Ukrainian fighters.” Some experts and analysts also think that Russia is “looking to take over Odesa further up the coast to the west, although that’s seen as a much harder task.”

TWO, Russia wants a land bridge

There are economic benefits that come with the control of the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine. Ellyatt refers to two of them.

“Firstly, the Donbas itself is a heavily industrialized region known for its coal mining industry and large coal reserves that Russia could potentially access if it annexed the entire region.”

“And secondly, control of the region would also enable Russia to create a ‘land bridge’ to Crimea, which it annexed from Ukraine in 2014, and which is a vital military and trading hub for Moscow on the Black Sea.”

ThreeRussian identity politics

Ellyatt identifies why. “Russia’s self-proclaimed defense’ of ethnic Russians in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions (which are overwhelmingly Russian-speaking) has formed a large part of its justification for invading Ukraine. “The area is no stranger to conflict; the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics have been the location of fighting between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces ever since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine. Figures vary, but it’s believed that around 14,000 people were killed during the prolonged but lower-level conflict in the area.”

Concluding thoughts

The war will likely continue

Stephen Walt argues, “even if Russia achieves some limited gains in the Donbass, the war will accelerate its relative decline. Putin may prevent Ukraine from ever joining NATO, but the long-term consequences of that achievement will leave Russia worse off as a whole. Unless he erects a new Iron Curtain, talented young Russians will continue to leave. State revenues will decline as more and more countries wean themselves off Russian oil, gas, and coal. Ukraine will continue to move toward Europe economically, a process that was already underway before the war began” (https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/04/13/ukraine-war-realism-great-powers-unipolarity).

US military spending will continue

The Biden administration with the support of the US Congress will continue giving Ukraine military support and continue the sanctions, with the support of most countries in the European Union and a few others. The war will profit US armaments makers and shortages caused by the war will contribute to inflationary pressures in the US and across the globe.

NATO will expand

NATO will expand, admitting Sweden and Finland as members and increase its military presence in Eastern Europe. This will intensify the Russian anxiety and anger. And it will likely lead to a renewed Cold War, which, in turn, will justify continuing large military budgets in the US, Europe, Russia, China, and other countries.

The Republican Party will use the war for partisan purposes

In the US, Republicans will do their best to use increases in military spending to defeat Democratic initiatives on domestic, social, and environmental policies.

The future of democracy in the US and around the world is under threat

The big question, then, is whether, in a divided world awash in weapons, and in a country increasingly influenced by a growing fascist right-wing movement, what will remain of democracy – and what will become of Ukraine?

The effects of Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine

Bob Sheak, April 22 2022

The Putin-ordered invasion of Ukraine is now in its 57th day as of April 21. It has led to horrendous destruction, death and injuries, mostly of civilians, and to the displacement of millions of Ukrainians from their homes, 5 million of whom have already fled the country. Major Ukrainian cities, along with towns of all sizes, have been invaded by Russian troops and/or bombed from the air and by artillery. Mariupol, a city in the southeastern part of the country, has been turned into rubble, and the brave resistance there is within days (April 20) of being defeated.

Laurel Wamsley reports on why Mariupol is important to the Russians (https://npr.org/2022/03/23/1088113318/what-mariupol-means-ukraine-russia-military-campaign). She writes: “If Mariupol does fall, it will be the biggest military win for Russia since it began its invasion of Ukraine on February 24.” It is important to the Russians because it “is located between Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, and the region of Eastern Ukraine called Donbas, much of which was already controlled by Russian-backed separatists.” It is – or has been – an important industrial port city for exporting Ukrainian steel and grain. It would be a boost to Putin’s prestige in Russia. And, if there were eventual negotiations, Russia could claim that it was already an independent “republic.”   

Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces are putting up a brave and tenacious resistance all across the country (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/26/world/europe/russia-ukraine-invasion-kyiv-kharkiv-kherson.html), and are receiving increasing armaments from the US and allies (https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/biden-announces-800m-military-aid-ukraine/story?id=84062563), which will enable the resistance to continue. But they are facing the world’s second largest military force and do not have the capacity to defend against aerial, artillery, and missile attacks (https://time.com/6156060/ukraine-no-fly-zone-russia).

Given the imbalance in military forces and Putin’s determination to continue the war, it presently seems that a negotiated settlement is not yet in reach. Still, there is a question as to whether Putin will at some point settle for a compromise agreement, allowing Russia to continue its control of Crimea and annexing Luhansk, Donetsk and a large swath of land extending out from the Donbass south along the Black Sea to Crimea. “More than a third of this area [Donbas],” Paul Kirby writes, “was already seized by Russian proxy forces in a war that began in 2014, now Russia wants to conquer all of it” (https://bbc.com/news/world-europe-56720589).

On April 6, 2022, Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee “that he expects the conflict in Ukraine to last for years,” as reported by Maureen Breslin (https://thehill.com/news/3260171-top-us-general-says-he-expects-russia-ukraine-conflict-to-be-measured-in-years).

“Milley also called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine ‘the greatest threat to peace and security of Europe and perhaps the world’ in the 42 years he has been serving in the military.”

“‘The Russian invasion of Ukraine is threatening to undermine not only European peace and stability but global peace and stability that my parents and a generation of Americans fought so hard to defend,’ Milley said.”

“Milley said that Russia and China are both in positions to challenge the ‘current global order.’”

“We are entering a world that is becoming more unstable and the potential for significant international conflict is increasing, not decreasing.’”

Putin in control in Russia

As noted, there has been no progress in Russian-Ukrainian peace negotiations, and the war, with intensifying global effects, continues and escalates. One thing is clear. Putin makes the major policy decisions in the Russian Federation and he has the support of an inner-circle of Russian elites (https://www.newsweek.com/putin-keeps-loyal-inner-circle-during-ukraine-war-despite-cracks-support-1691161).

The unexpected stiff Ukrainian resistance, along with US and allied military support and sanctions, has apparently done little to weaken his dictatorial power in Russia or his determination to take control of part or all of Ukraine.

Suppression of dissent, control of the media, and the absence of political alternatives.

Brian Bennett reports for Time magazine on briefings to President Biden, where “U.S. intelligence officials have said there are no signs that the fallout from the war has loosened Putin’s grip on Russia, according to two U.S. officials familiar with those assessments. In fact, experts say, there’s evidence that Putin has used the war to further consolidate power, at least in the short term” (https://time.com/6163798/vladimir-putin-russia-power). Bennett adds,

“As the war drags on, Putin has intensified his long-running battle to crack down on opposing voices within Russia. Putin signed into law a measure which effectively criminalizes independent reporting that deviates from the government line, even banning the use of the word ‘war’ in news broadcasts about Ukraine, which led to the closure of independent Russian media outlets. Russian authorities have arrested thousands who spoke out against the invasion. The protests within Russia have been smaller during the war than the ones that broke the emergence of potential successors. The longevity of his reign is partially attributable to the absence of a clear No. 2 waiting in the wings, say experts, who point out there hasn’t been an organic succession of power in Russia since President Boris Yeltsin left office at the end of 1999.”

Another part of Putin’s power rests on his ability to convince ordinary Russians that he is “popular.” If they believe this, then, researchers find, they respond favorably about him. A group of political scientists from Dublin, Bergen (Germany), Wisconsin, and London conducted polling in Russia and substantiated this concept (https://washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/04/13/putin-public-opinion-propaganda-levada-center). (The researchers: Noah Buckley, Kyle L. Marquardt, Ora John Reuter, and Katerina Tertytchnaya.)

They point out that within days of the February invasion of Ukraine, “Russian authorities began to orchestrate a pro-war campaign at home. To portray a country that is rallying around its president, the regime…staged pro-war rallies and introduced new symbols in support of the war.”  State media regularly ran stories that emphasized how Putin’s approval ratings had gone up after the invasion.

Their research found that the “image of Putin’s popularity bolsters his actual popularity. But [they add] staged perceptions of popularity can be fragile.”

The researchers write: “Scholarship generally finds that more popular authoritarian governments tend to last longer. Our results suggest that leaders such as Putin need these public perceptions of support if they want to remain in power.”

“Evidence of popularity itself may make a leader even more popular as people come to believe sincerely that the leader deserves approval.

“Alternatively, citizens may view a dictator’s high approval ratings as a sign that supporting the leader is the ‘correct’ opinion to report. If voters believe expressing opposition to a popular leader might result in social condemnation or political punishment, they may feel compelled to say they support the leader even if they do not. Indeed, research shows that pressure to conform helps account for Putin’s large approval increase after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.” However, the researchers also find, “When unanimity or social consensus breaks down, regime support can dissolve very quickly, as happened when the Soviet Union abruptly crumbled in 1989.”

“To investigate the relationship between perceptions of Putin’s popularity and his actual popularity, we fielded a set of experiments in four public opinion surveys in Russia. Two of these surveys were conducted by the Levada Center, Russia’s most reputable social research firm, face-to-face in respondents’ homes. These surveys, which relied on a probabilistic sample, were representative at the national level.”

The findings suggest that much of Putin’s support is based on perceptions that he is popular. Without that perception, Putin’s popularity fades.

How may all this play out?

“As Russia’s war in Ukraine grinds on, signs of public dissatisfaction about the war may increasingly enter the public consciousness. Street protests across the country, scenes of soldiers’ mothers criticizing the authorities and a sharp rise in food prices coupled with shortages could dent Putin’s image of popularity. In turn, that could set off a larger loss of support.

“However, Putin is also increasing repression to make citizens afraid of expressing opposition to the regime. The dueling dynamics between growing dissent and increasingly stifling repression will help shape Putin’s rule in the months and years ahead.”

Why did Putin launch the invasion?

Putin and Russian officials have offered a number of over-lapping justifications having to do with Putin’s concerns about Russian national security, about protecting Russian-speaking people living in Ukraine, and about building a security architecture to compete with NATO and the EU. Consider three.

#1 – To Secure Russian National Security

In this regard, Putin is concerned about the expansion of NATO in eastern Europe and the possible inclusion of Ukraine in that alliance. There is some plausibility in his argument on this issue. The editors of Monthly Review (April 2022)offer this summary.

“Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, NATO has absorbed fifteen countries, all to the east, which were previously part of the Warsaw Pact or were regions within the Soviet Union. On its east, along the borders of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine, NATO has seen a major military buildup. It currently has an air presence in Estonia, Lithuania, and Romania. U.S. troops and NATO multinational troops are massed in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, and Romania. NATO missile ‘defense’ facilities are located in Poland and Romania. The object of all of these forward military installations (not to mention those in Central and Western Europe) is Russia. In 2008, NATO declared that it intended eventually to incorporate Ukraine as a NATO member.”

Ukraine war follows decades of warnings that NATO expansion into Eastern Europe could provoke Russia

In a February 28, 2022, article, Ronald Suny, Professor of History and Political Science at the University of Michigan, reviews some of the history showing that there have been conflicting views in the US political establishment and among various foreign policy experts on NATO expansion (https://theconversation.com/ukraine-war-follows-decades-of-warnings-that-nato-expansion-into-eastern-europe-could-provoke-russia-177999).

Consider some of what he writes.

“The more widespread and familiar view in the West, particularly in the United States, is that Russia is and has always been an expansionist state, and its current president, Vladimir Putin, is the embodiment of that essential Russian ambition: to build a new Russian empire.

“‘This was … always about naked aggression, about Putin’s desire for empire by any means necessary,’ President Joe Biden said on Feb. 24, 2022.

“The opposing view argues that Russia’s security concerns are in fact genuine, and that NATO expansion eastward is seen by Russians as directed against their country. Putin has been clear for many years that if continued, the expansion would likely be met with serious resistance by the Russians, even with military action.

“That perspective isn’t held just by Russians; some influential American foreign policy experts have subscribed to it as well.

Among others, Biden’s CIA director, William J. Burns, has been warning about the provocative effect of NATO expansion on Russia since 1995. That’s when Burns, then a political officer in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, reported to Washington that ‘hostility to early NATO expansion is almost universally felt across the domestic political spectrum here.’”

On the one hand, NATO recognizes the sovereignty of all states and their right to ally with whatever they state they wish. Based on this view, “NATO acceded over time to the requests of European democracies to join the alliance. Former members of the Soviet-established Warsaw Pact, which was a Soviet version of NATO, were also brought into NATO in the 1990s, along with three former Soviet republics – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – in 2004.” Given that, Suny writes, the “Western view is that the Kremlin is supposed to understand and accept that the alliance’s activities, among them war games replete with American tanks staged in nearby Baltic states and rockets stationed in Poland and Romania – which the U.S. says are aimed at Iran – in no way [?] present a threat to Russian security.”

On the other hand, “Russian elite and broad public opinion have both long been opposed to such expansion, the placement of American rockets in Poland and Romania and the arming of Ukraine with Western weaponry.

“When President Bill Clinton’s administration moved to bring Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic into NATO, Burns wrote that the decision was ‘premature at best, and needlessly provocative at worst.’ There was opposition to such expansion. “In June 1997, 50 prominent foreign policy experts signed an open letter to Clinton, saying, ‘We believe that the current U.S. led effort to expand NATO … is a policy error of historic proportions” that would “unsettle European stability.’”

“If you think the war in Ukraine is the work of a determined imperialist, any actions short of defeating the Russians will look like 1938 Munich-style appeasement and Joe Biden becomes the reviled Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who acceded to Hitler’s demands for territory in Czechoslovakia only to find himself deceived as the Nazis steadily marched to war.

“If, however, you believe that Russia has legitimate concerns about NATO expansion, then the door is open [perhaps] to discussion, negotiation, compromise and concessions.”

Suny concludes his analysis on a somber note.

“Leaders like Putin who feel cornered and ignored may strike out. He has already threatened “military and political consequences” if the currently neutral Finland and Sweden attempt to join NATO. Paradoxically, NATO has endangered small countries on the border of Russia, as Georgia learned in 2008, that aspire to join the alliance.

“One wonders – as did the American diplomat George F. Kennan, the father of the Cold War containment doctrine who warned against NATO expansion in 1998 – whether the advancement of NATO eastward has increased the security of European states or made them more vulnerable.”

Suny adds: “Putin’s sense of Russia’s insecurity vis-à-vis a much more powerful NATO is genuine, but during the current impasse over Ukraine, his recent statements have become more fevered and even paranoid. Usually a rationalist, Putin now appears to have lost patience and is driven by his emotions.”

#2 – Protect Russian-speaking people living in Ukraine

Paul Kirby refers to what Putin told the Russian people at the onset of the invasion on February 24, that “his goal was to “demilitarise and de-Nazify Ukraine”, to protect people subjected to what he called eight years of bullying and genocide by Ukraine’s government” (https://bbc.com/news/world-europe-56720589).

Along the same line, “Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke of freeing Ukraine from oppression.” Kirby is quick to point out “[t]he claims of Nazis and genocide in Ukraine are completely unfounded but part of a narrative repeated by Russia for years. Moscow even made wild allegations that Ukraine was building a plutonium-based dirty bomb.”

However, there is one important fact that is difficult for Putin and his advisers to refute, that is the current Ukrainian President won the office in a landslide election in 2019. Andrew Higgins and Julia Mendel covered the story for The New York Times (https://nytimes.com/2019/04/21/world/europe/Vo;odymr-Zelensky-ukraine-elections.html). They report:

“…. Volodymyr Zelensky won a landslide victory in Ukraine’s presidential election, according to official results with nearly all of the votes counted, making a comic actor with no experience in government or the military the commander in chief of a country that has been at war with Russian proxies for over five years.

“With more than 95 percent of ballots cast on Sunday [in April of 2019] counted, Mr. Zelensky had won 73.17 percent of the vote, compared with just 24.5 percent for Petro O. Poroshenko, Ukraine’s incumbent president. Mr. Zelensky triumphed in every region, except for the area around the city of Lviv, a center of Ukrainian culture and nationalism in the west of the country.”

“Mr. Zelensky’s victory will give Ukraine its first Jewish leader and deliver a stinging rebuke to a political and business establishment represented by Mr. Poroshenko, a billionaire candy tycoon who campaigned on the nationalist slogan ‘Army, language, faith.’

“After five years of grinding war with Russian proxies in the east of Ukraine, voters appeared to send a signal that they were more concerned with the internal menaces of corruption and poverty…”

“Mr. Zelensky’s triumph hits back at years of Russian propaganda presenting Ukraine as a failed state dominated by fascists steeped in anti-Semitism and contempt for Soviet fighters who defeated Hitler’s forces in World War II.”

The upshot, however, is that Putin’s views were never affected by such facts.

Building an alternative to NATO

Putin has said he would like to resurrect the former Warsaw Pact. The invasion of Ukraine is, in this view, a first step in pursuing that vision. It goes like this. Once Ukraine is subjugated, then other former eastern European countries will eventually come to view Russia as an alternative to NATO and the EU.

Kurt Volker considers Putin’s expansionist ambitions for Russia in an article for the Center for European Policy (CEPA) analysis (https://cepa.org/putin-is-determined-to-rebuild-the-russian-empire). Volker is a “leading expert in US foreign and national security policy, he served as US Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations from 2017-2019, and as US Ambassador to NATO from 2008-2009.”

“Upon becoming President of Russia 21 years ago, Vladimir Putin declared his intention to restore Russian greatness. At the time, coming on the heels of a decade of wild-west capitalism, corruption, and breakdowns in law and order, many Russians and outside observers welcomed his words as a necessary correction that would strengthen democracy.

“Two decades later, however, it is apparent that he was thinking about something else. Having described the collapse of the Soviet Union as the greatest tragedy of the 20th Century, Putin has embarked on a project to re-establish a Russian empire in Europe and Eurasia.

“Several elements were central to this project and were visible (although often explained away) even during his first decade: rebuilding the Russian military, modernizing and expanding Russia’s nuclear arsenal, reviving and expanding Russian intelligence services and activities, taking control of Russian media outlets, consolidating state industries, and undermining (and now openly crippling) any political opposition to his United Russia party. Russia’s elections are now extensively rigged.

“President Putin’s speech at the 2007 Munich Security Conference took a further next step, announcing to the world Russia’s rejection of the existing European security architecture. By that point, Russia had already announced it would no longer adhere to the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty and vehemently opposed NATO plans for theater missile defense, which had previously been developed in partnership with Russia. Russia also refused to respect the principle of host-nation consent for its largely unwanted troop presence in Georgia and Moldova, and began ignoring Vienna Convention limits on troop concentrations, exercises, and transparency. It later violated the Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles (INF) Treaty and began to deny overflights requested under the Open Skies Treaty.”

“Within the past two years, he has overseen a take-over of Belarussian security and media, a stationing of Russian peacekeeping troops in Nagorno-Karabakh, a take-over of Kazakhstan’s security and media, and a massive military build-up that threatens a new invasion of Ukraine. This is on top of Russia’s 2014 illegal annexation of Crimea and occupation of parts of Donbas; its 2008 occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and its long-standing presence in Transnistria.

“The draft treaty texts Russia presented to the United States and to NATO in December [2021] make it clear that Russia is seeking to overturn the European security architecture in place since the Helsinki Accords of 1975, and return instead to a Yalta-like division of Europe between a Western and a Russian sphere of influence. Several elements of the Helsinki ‘decalogue’ are directly challenged by Russia’s texts: the right of states to choose their own security alliances; the non-interference in the domestic affairs of other states; the commitment to refrain from the threat or use force; and acceptance that international borders cannot be altered by force.

“Clearly, the US and Europe will reject these Russian demands. But that is hardly the point. December 2022 will mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Soviet Union on the territory of the former Russian Empire. Putin seems determined to celebrate that anniversary having [taken steps toward establishing] a new Russian empire, and he is backing that up with military force, regardless of the West’s protests.”

Putin’s fear of the example of a democratic Ukraine

There are those who argue that Ukraine’s movement toward a democratic constitutional order is another of Putin’s concerns. Philip Bobbitt and Viola Glenger advance this argument (https://justsecurity.org/80822/putins-real-fear-ukraine-constitutional-order). Bobbitt is the Herbert Wechsler Professor of Federal Jurisprudence and Director of the Center for National Security at Columbia Law School, and is a Distinguished Senior Lecturer at the University of Texas. Glenger is Washington Senior Editor for Just Security and research scholar at NYU School of Law. Follow her on Twitter (@violagienger).

They write:

“It is important for speculation about Putin’s imperial ambitions or his alleged concern about NATO not to deflect from a focus on what is the greatest animating fear for Putin: a liberal democracy on his doorstep in the form of the constitutional order of Ukraine.”

And:

“For Putin, Ukraine has been the outlier. Ukraine has been pursuing freedom and democracy determinedly, though haltingly, on its own, and it has had a good deal of success. The fact that this democratic process has been playing out on Putin’s doorstep, perhaps most notably with the 2014 ‘Revolution of Dignity’ against his stooge, then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, is terrifying to Putin.

“In the information age, a state of terror such as the one that Putin’s Russia has become, cannot countenance states of consent, especially next door. It is Ukraine’s constitutional order — with its independent (though still troubled) judicial system, freedom of the press, multiparty politics, largely legitimate elections, vibrant civil society, and general respect for human rights — that Putin cannot tolerate, lest it provide too tempting an example for democratic activists in his own country who have vehemently opposed him at great risk to their lives and to the public in general that shares so many ties to the people in Ukraine. The ‘peaceful coexistence’ of the Cold War is, in this respect, not acceptable to Putin.”

Effects #1 of the war: Rising military spending and repercussions

Since Putin launched in February the invasion on Ukraine, 25 countries have joined in delivering weapons and supplies valued in the billions of dollars, according to an investigation by Politico. You can access the list of countries and what they have donated at: (https://politico.com/news/2022/03/22/ukraine-weapons-military-aid-00019104).   

The U.S. leads donors by having sent to Ukraine $3 billion in military weapons and supplies by April 13. Britain has donated $551 million. The list of donors does not include China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, or low-income countries from the Middle East, Africa, or South America. But Finland and Germany, have re-written long-standing policies that barred exporting weapons into war zones.” In addition, “there are tens of thousands of troops being activated and deployed by NATO countries in Eastern Europe.”

Despite such increasing aid, it must be recognized that Ukraine has an active military force of only 200,000. Even with international military support, it must stand in battle against “a behemoth Russian army with far more sophisticated weaponry.”

Julian E. Barnes and Michael D. Shear report for The New York Times on the most recent US military and other security aid of $800 million to Ukraine (bringing the total up to $3 billion, with more likely to come), while also stepping up “intelligence sharing” (https://nytimes.com/2022/04/13/us/politics/biden-weapons-ukraine.html). Here’s some of what they report.

“The Biden administration has responded with antitank weapons, including Javelin missiles, and other weapons that Ukrainian soldiers have used to repel Russian forces, especially in the north of the country. The United States has so far resisted helping Ukraine acquire fighter jets and other weaponry that could be used against targets inside Russia.

“Mr. Biden said on Wednesday that the additional aid for Ukraine would include more sophisticated weaponry, such as artillery systems and armored personnel carriers.”

“Mr. Biden said the United States would transfer additional helicopters as well, though he did not indicate whether they would come directly from the United States or from another country.

“The United States is also providing 18 155-millimeter howitzers, the first time it has sent that weapon to Ukraine, and 40,000 artillery rounds.”

Does Putin have a red line?

The effects of the increased in military spending in regards to the war in Ukraine are profound. They give Ukrainian forces a fighting chance to contest the Russians and perhaps improve the opportunity for negotiations. However, as Putin appears unready to participate in such negotiations, he increases his military forces in Ukraine and continues the destructive warfare, while also reminding the world that Russia has nuclear weapons (https://theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/26/russia-reasserts-right-to-use-nuclear-weapons-in-ukraine-putin), and warning the US and allies against giving Ukraine advanced weaponry that could be used to hit targets in Russia

(https://nytimes.com/2022/04/15/world/europe/ukraine-russia-us-weapons-warning.html).

Increasing national debt – The increased US military spending for Ukraine will add to the US national debt and give the Republicans another justification for cutting or not increasing funds for social and environmental programs. Michael T. Klare considers these effects in an article published in the Nation magazine on March 31, 2022, titled “Russia’s War in Ukraine Has Shattered the Old-World Order (https://thenation.com/article/world/ukraine-russia-war-impact).

He writes: “Military spending will rise while other priorities—education, health care, climate action—are accorded secondary status.”

More partisan politics from the right – At the same time, Trump and some Republicans are taking a position that the Biden administration is not doing enough in supporting Ukraine militarily. Indeed, Trump, the party’s leader, has said that he would send nuclear subs to Russia’s coast to pressure Putin, according to an article by Katherine Fung for Newsweek magazine on March 21 (https://newsweek.com/donald-trump-would-send-nuclear-subs-russia-coast-pressure-putin-1690108). She quotes Trump:

“‘You should say, If you mention that word [nuclear] one more time, we’re gonna send [nuclear submarines and planes] over and we’ll be coasting back and forth, up and down your coast,’ Trump told Fox Business on Monday.” Trump continued:  “You can’t let this tragedy continue. You can’t let these, these thousands of people die.”

Trump is contradicting what he earlier said about Putin’s policy toward Ukraine.

Fung writes: “A day before Russia launched a full-scale invasion, Trump called Putin a ‘genius’ for recognizing two separatists’ regions in Ukraine as independent. “I said, ‘How smart is that?’ “And, Fung noted Trump says he would go in and be a peacemaker. In an interview on The Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show on February 23, Trump said:

“While he hasn’t backed down from calling Putin a ‘genius,’ Trump said: ‘The problem is that our leaders are dumb…and so far, allowed [Putin] to get away with this travesty and assault on humanity.’”

The upshot of Trump’s position is that he is looking for a partisan advantage against the Democrats, while generating confusion and disunity in the American public. But he seems unable to understand the dangers of military escalation.

Would he, as president, deliver Poland’s MiG fighters over the border? Would he transfer planes to the Ukrainian air force and impose a “no-fly zone” over the country? Given the opportunity, and taking into account his former weak presidential record and scatterbrain foreign policy, Trump will avoid expert advice, surround himself with sycophants, and make decisions on what his “gut” tells him. And, as president, he would have his finger on the nuclear button. Meanwhile, it’s anyone’s guess what will come out of Trump’s mouth next, though whatever he says large segments of the Republican Party remain under his thumb and he has a following of tens of millions of Americans who uncritically follow his lead.

We should also bear in mind, that Trump has benefited financially from his long-term relations with Russian oligarchs and Putin (see Craig Unger’s best-selling book, House of Trump, House of Putin: The Explosive Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia), and boasted about his relationship with Putin, as reported by Josephine Harvey for Huffpost (https://huffpost.com/entry/trump-putin-relationship-fox-news_n_6257a00e4b052d2bd5e2172). Harvey writes:

“Former President Donald Trump skipped another opportunity to call Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions evil on Wednesday [April 14], then boasted about how well he knew the dictator.

“‘I knew Putin very well. Almost as well as I know you, Sean,’ Trump told his close confidante, Fox News host Sean Hannity, as the network aired graphic images of dead bodies and the damage left by Russian troops in Ukraine.

“‘I will tell you, we talked about it, we talked about it a lot, he did want Ukraine, but I said, ‘You’re not going into Ukraine,’ Trump continued. “He would never, ever have gone into Ukraine.”

“Minutes earlier, Hannity had prompted Trump to denounce Putin.

“‘I asked you the last time you were on, whether you think that this is evil in our time,’ Hannity said. ‘Do you believe this is evil in our time?’

“Trump did not answer the question….”

(Also see Craig Unger’s article, “How republicans spend decades cozying up to Putin’s Kremlin” at https://newrepublic.com/article/165782/republicans-putin-history-relationship-manafort.)

Eliminate Pentagon bloat and inefficiency – another way to pay for military support to Ukraine –

William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, argues that military aid to Ukraine, while necessary, is unnecessarily adding to an already bloated Pentagon budget, but there is another way. The US could avoid adding to the national debt through more effective budgeting and cutting spending on some major weapons’s systems (https://commondreams.org/views/2022/03/29/ukraine-war-cannot-justify-bidens-too-damn-high-pentagon-budget). He writes: “The U.S. military budget is replete with examples of waste and dysfunction that must be addressed before going on a new spending spree.” Here are highlights from the article.

“The Biden administration’s FY 2023 proposal for national defense, released on Monday, far exceeds what is needed to provide a robust defense of the United States and its allies. At $813 billion, it is substantially more — adjusted for inflation — than spending at the height of the Korean or Vietnam wars, and over $100 billion more than peak spending during the Cold War. The $800 billion-plus figure for national defense includes the Pentagon budget, work on nuclear warheads at the Department of Energy, and smaller defense-related outlays at a number of other federal agencies.” (Hartung’s references leave out the defense-related interest on military spending which adds significantly to the national debt.)

With an already large budget, Hartung argues, the Pentagon should be able to pay for Ukrainian support by eliminating cost over runs on weapons contracts. On this point, Hartung writes that the Pentagon budget is…padded as a result of the routine contractor practice of grossly overcharging the Pentagon for spare parts and the steep cost overruns on major systems, and there is room [here] to cut tens of billions of dollars from the Pentagon budget without diminishing our security.” Money could be made available to pay for military support of the Ukrainians by “eliminating unnecessary or dysfunctional weapons dangerous or unworkable systems like the F-35 combat aircraft and the new intercontinental ballistic missile, and by reducing 750 foreign military bases in 85 countries.

Effects #2 – An immigration crisis and right-wing politics

Putin’s war on the Ukraine has already caused 5 million people to emigrate from the country (https://data2.nhcr.org/en/situations/ukraine), 6.5 to 7.1 million to be internally displaced (https: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-605554720),

and additional untold millions stranded and vulnerable in war zones. It is the largest such crisis in Europe since WWII. As of April 19, 2.8 million have fled to Poland, 757 thousand to Romania, 549,805 to the Russian Federation, Hungary 471,080, Moldavia 426,964, Slovakia 342,813, and Belarus 23, 759. There are no overall data on how they are being accommodated, how long they will have to remain, whether they are becoming an undue burden to the recipient countries, and how many emigrants will be granted asylum in other European countries and the US.

Jan Lopatka and Alicja Ptak report for Rueters that. within a month of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the vast emigration it caused, the flow of Ukrainian refugees was already in March testing the limits of Central Europe’s capacity “to comfortably house some of the nearly 3.5 million millions Ukrainian refugees” [it has doubled] (https://usnews.com/news/world/articles/2022-03-20/flow-of-ukrainian-refugees-testing-limits-of-central-europe-capacity ….) Their report is based on interviews with officials in Poland and the Czech Interior Minister Vit Rakusan.

Putin appears to believe that NATO countries will be politically destabilized as the emigration crisis grows, strengthening the position of far-right, pro-Putin political parties who will blame immigration for any shortage of jobs, rise in cost of living, or any other economic and social problems. There are ideological affinities including not only opposition to immigration but also to multiculturalism, to LBGTQ rights, the denigration of experts, attacks on media, and admiration for strong leaders. Moises Naim considers such how “populous” politics benefit autocratic leaders in his book, The Revenge of Power: How Autocrats are Reinventing Politics for the 21st Century). Also check out Ruth Beth-Chiat’s book titled Strongmen.

Right-wing support of Putin in Europe

The current election in France is an example of which Putin hopes to benefit. On Sunday, May 1, President Emmanuel Macron will face Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader, in the runoff on Sunday. For background on the election, check this source: https://nytimes.com/article/france-presidential-election-2022.html. The relevance here is that Le Pen has been supportive of Putin prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but, despite the invasion, has continued to resist rejecting him as a Russian leader.

In an article published by Newsweek on April 19, 2022, Khaleda Rahman delves into “what Marine Le Pen has said about Vladimir Putin” and her links to him (https://newsweek.com/what-marine-le-pen-said-about-vladimir-putin-friend-admirer-1698984). Here are main points.

“Le Pen traveled to Moscow to meet Putin when she was running for the presidency in 2017, received loans from a Russian bank to fund her party and supported Putin’s illegal annexation of Crimea.” Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, “she has sought to distance herself from Russia in recent months and has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.” But the facts indicate she has been and remains an admirer of Putin.

“In a March 2017 interview with CBS News, Le Pen called concerns that Putin posed a threat to Europe ‘a big scam.’” Then, asked if she felt Putin threatened France and other countries, she said: “No, I don’t believe it is so. Nothing Vladimir Putin has done would make me reach that conclusion.” “… she defended Russia’s foreign policy and blamed tensions on the U.S. and NATO, accusing them of arming countries along Russia’s border. “Ukraine is part of Russia’s sphere of influence, it’s a fact,” she said.”

“In early February, Le Pen said she didn’t believe that Russia would invade Ukraine. That prediction proved wrong when Putin ordered Russian forces into its neighboring country on February 24.” She then condemned the invasion as

“a clear violation of international law and absolutely indefensible.” “At a press conference last week [second week in April], she said allegations that she is close to Putin and Russia were “unfair.” However, “in a sign that she would seek to revive a friendship with Putin, she has called for a ‘strategic rapprochement’ with Russia once the war is over.”

It is doubtless that Putin is grateful for the support of Le Pen and any prominent political leader and parties in other European countries who have supported Putin. They include, for example, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Serbian President Alekander Vucic

(https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/04/04/pro-putin-european-leaders-reassert-their-power). Italian and Austrian business leaders from the energy, finance, and agriculture sectors are reliable advocates for Russian ties and are critical of sanctions (https://carnegieendowment.org/2020/02/27/with-friends-like-these-kremlin-s-far-right-and-populist-connections-in-italy-and-austria-pub-81100). And there are 17 minor “insurgent parties” on the right that are “favorably inclined toward Russia”

(https://ecfr.eu/article/commentary_putins_friends_in_europe7153).

Not to lose the point, the massive emigration from Ukraine driven by Russia’s invasion may well, sadly, redound to Putin’s political benefit if the war continues for months or years.  

Effects #3 – Sanctions and the ramifications

There are other important issues stemming from Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine. For example, the US and allied imposition of sanctions is a significant issue. The sanctions – and they are being increased over time – are designed to reduce the foreign wealth assets of Putin and Russian oligarchs, to persuade American and Western companies to leave Russia, to drive down the availability of products available to Russian consumers and undermine the Russian economy, to have Russia default on his foreign loan obligations, to reduce access to dollar-based currency, to induce Germany and other countries to make plans to reduce their purchase of Russian natural gas and oil, and to curtail agricultural and other export products. The New York Times provides an extensive list of the sanctions imposed by the US (https://nytimes.com/article/russia-us-ukraine-sanctions.html).

It is too early to ascertain whether the sanctions will have the desired effects. In the meantime, Lawrence H. Tribe and Jeremy Lewin argue that, though sanctions should continue, there is a immediate way to support Ukrainian forces (https://nytimes.com/2022/04/15/opinion/russia-war-currency-reserves.html).

 Mr. Tribe taught constitutional law at Harvard for 50 years. Mr. Lewin is in his third year at Harvard Law School. They propose the following.

“President Biden could liquidate the tens of billions of dollars the Russian central bank has parked in the United States as part of its foreign exchange reserves; by some estimates, those funds may total as much as $100 billion. These assets are already frozen at the Federal Reserve and other banks thanks to Treasury sanctions banning transactions with the Russian central bank. With new details of Russian atrocities making the prospect of lifting those sanctions increasingly untenable, those funds have, in effect, been seized indefinitely. Liquidating them now would not only be likely the fastest way to increase American aid to Ukraine without further burdening and fatiguing American taxpayers. It would also send a potent signal that the United States is committed to making even the world’s most powerful states pay for their war crimes.”

The effects of sanctions outside of Russia have been rising prices for natural gas and oil and for food. They, in turn, are a factor in the rising inflation in the US and around the world, where, especially in low-income countries, the effects are particularly severe (https://weforum.org/agenda/2022/03/ukraine-energy-and-food-radio-davos).

There is also concern that the politics of rising fuel prices may distract from efforts to deal with the climate crisis (https://nytimes.com/2022/03/10/climate/climate-oil-crisis-global.html).

Concluding thoughts

The end of the war must rest on a negotiated settlement. Ukraine has implored Putin to negotiate meaningfully. The US and allied sanctions and increasing military support for Ukraine are designed to enable Ukraine to continue their resistance to the Russian invasion and pressure Putin to come to the table. But, instead, the Putin sends more troops to fight in their war, and the onslaught, destruction and death continue, while random bombing everywhere In Ukraaine terrorizes the population. Putin and his generals are clearly guilty of war crimes.

Underlying the escalating war, especially if the Ukrainians are able to continue their resistance and the sanctions have a great impact on Russia, Putin’s ace in the hole is his threat to use nuclear weapons. Both Russia and the US are responsible for the fact that each country has so many nuclear weapons and have failed themselves to negotiate an effective nuclear arms agreement.  

Presently, the best that can be hoped for is that, with foreign assistance, Ukrainian forces will be able to keep the most of the country free of Russian control and that sooner than later there will be meaningful negotiations. That said – and repeated by so many – a negotiated settlement is likely to leave Ukraine partitioned, with the Donbas and southeastern part of the country turned into independent statelets.

What are the possible scenarios for ending the war? Tony Wood, previously cited, identifies five (https://newleftreview.org/issues/ii133/articles/tony-wood-matris-of-war).

“Five weeks in [now over 8 weeks in], it remains to be seen what the future course of the war will be. The worst possible scenario, involving full-scale war between the nato powers and Russia, has not yet materialized. But the longer the war continues, the higher the possibility of an escalation with potentially catastrophic consequences. Biden’s belligerent assertion on a visit to Poland in late March that Putin ‘cannot remain in power’ increased the prospects of such an outcome. Already plainly implied by the West’s coordinated economic warfare, unprecedented in its scale, regime change has now been explicitly, if unofficially, posited as the goal of us policy.

“A second scenario would be a military defeat for Russia, with a combination of sanctions and us and European weapons shipments helping not just to stem the Russian advance but to force a retreat without any peace agreement. This seems unlikely in itself—the sheer size of the Russian military means they can continue to fight for some time given the political will—and in the absence of a peace settlement would amount to no more than a temporary respite for Ukraine.

“A third possibility, and the most disastrous for Ukraine, is the indefinite prolongation of the conflict, with the vastly larger Russian army facing off against Ukrainian forces being constantly rearmed by the us and European powers. The result would be to make Ukraine the site of a relentless proxy war, aid from the us and its allies helping to obstruct without neutralizing the destructive power of Russian arms. This is where the concerted policy of Western governments currently points, and the implications make a mockery of their apparent concerns for Ukrainians’ welfare….

“A fourth, less pessimistic scenario involves the swift agreement of a peace. By mid-March a new set of Russian demands had surfaced in talks between Ukrainian and Russian envoys: Ukrainian neutrality, recognition of Russian sovereignty in Crimea and of the independence of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces. In late March Ukrainian negotiators put forward a ten-point plan proposing the country adopt non-aligned and non-nuclear status, subject to a referendum, and that its security be guaranteed by a consortium of other states. Discussion of Crimea would be hived off into a separate bilateral process, and the Donbas was not mentioned. Whatever the contours of an eventual peace settlement, and for all the posturing by Washington and its allies, there seems to be broad agreement that nato membership for Ukraine should be foreclosed. Given how little protection the possibility of nato membership has given Ukraine, and how much nato itself did to make the conflict more likely in the first place, the Ukrainian populace may find that an acceptable condition for peace. But with Russian forces seemingly stalled in their advance, and us and European weapons continuing to flood in, the Ukrainian government may have diminishing incentives to accept a settlement at gunpoint, especially if they are being encouraged by their allies to believe those guns will eventually be forced to retreat. If further atrocities after those uncovered at Bucha in early April come to light, the moral case for negotiating a peace with Russia will also become even harder to make.

“A fifth possibility, somewhere between the two preceding scenarios, is that a military stalemate leads not to a peace settlement but to an armed truce. On one side, Russian occupying troops may end up in control of enough territory to enforce a de facto partition, while on the other Ukrainian forces, with nato backing, would stand emplaced behind front lines stretching over hundreds of miles. Russian moves, as of late March, to refocus military efforts on the Donbas distinctly signalled such a possibility. This would be a much larger-scale version of the fortified armistice line between North and South Korea, and would involve a permanent militarization not just of the polities on either side, but across much of Europe.”

The ongoing danger of nuclear war, exacerbated by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

Bob Sheak, April 5, 2022

Forward

In February 2020, I wrote and sent out a post titled “The looming danger of nuclear war: the context and the doomsday clock.” I will include a copy of the article after the Forward.

The doomsday clock

The “doomsday clock” refers to annual assessment by scientists and analysts at the site called “Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.” It was started in 1945 by Albert Einstein and University of Chicago Scientists who, as the Bulletin describes it, created “the Doomsday Clock” in 1947, “using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet. The Doomsday Clock is set every year by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 11 Nobel laureates. The Clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and disruptive technologies in other domains. The clock has been closest to midnight in 2020-2022 of all the years since it was first published.”

The increasing danger of never-justifiable nuclear war

As I point out in my February 2020 article, the existence of nuclear weapons and the competition and potential conflict particularly among major nuclear states, the US, Russia, China, risks war by accident or intention. In the context of the present Russian invasion of Ukraine and Putin’s decision to put Russian nuclear forces on “alert,” nuclear war has generated intensified worldwide concern that such a war could happen, irreversibly in minutes, leading to a US/NATO nuclear response, and, at that point, the extinction of civilization. See Max Fisher’s article, “Putin’s Case for War, Annotated” (https://nytimes.com/2022/02/24/world/europe/putin-ukraine-speech.html).

On the threat of nuclear war stemming from Putin’s war on Ukraine, check out the following. See for example: Alexander Witze’s article on “how a small nuclear war would transform the entire planet (https://nature.com/articles/d14586-020-00794-y), or Mark Lynas’ piece on what the science says on whether humans could survive a nuclear war between NATO and Russia (https://alliance-for-science.cornell.edu/blog/2022/03/what-the-science-says-could-humans-survive-a-nuclear-war-between-nato-and russia), or Daniel Boffey’s report, “Russia reasserts right to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine” (https://theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/26/russia-reasserts-right-to-use-nuclear-weapons-in-ukraine-putin), or Andrew Cockburn’s “The Rising Threat of Nuclear War” (https://counterpunch.org/2022/03/28/the-rising-threat-of-nuclear-war).  

Spending more on war preparation

Withal, over time, diplomacy has taken a back seat to military preparedness and escalation. And the US, Russia, and China are all spending more on their respective militaries and “modernizing” their nuclear arsenals, with the U.S. spending far more than the others. William Hartung reports on U.S. military spending, “replete with examples of waste and dysfunction,” as follows (https://commondreams.org/views/2022/03/29/ukraine-war-cannot-justify-bidens-too-damn-high-pentagon-budget). His figures leave out the military spending’s contribution to the ever-rising National Debt.

“The Biden administration’s FY 2023 proposal for national defense, released on Monday, far exceeds what is needed to provide a robust defense of the United States and its allies. At $813 billion, it is substantially more — adjusted for inflation — than spending at the height of the Korean or Vietnam wars, and over $100 billion more than peak spending during the Cold War. The $800 billion-plus figure for national defense includes the Pentagon budget, work on nuclear warheads at the Department of Energy, and smaller defense-related outlays at a number of other federal agencies.”

(I delve into “military spending” in one section of an earlier post, “U.S. militarism: Some Evidence,” at https://vitalissues-bobsheak.com/2021/10/13/u-s-militarism-some-evidence.)

Putin’s war on Ukraine

It is devastating and genocidal war has been intensely filmed and documented by journalists and others. A recent Amnesty International investigative report provides recent documentation (https://amnesty.org/latest/news/2022/04/ukraine-russia-cruel-siege-warfare-tactics-unlawfully-killing-civilians-new-testimony-and-investigation). Here is a sample of what Amnesty International investigators have found.

For the first time, Amnesty International field investigators in Ukraine have independently verified physical evidence of banned cluster munitions, the use of which violates international law. They have also collected testimony that documents Russian siege tactics, including unlawful indiscriminate attacks, disruption of basic utilities, cuts to communication, destruction of civilian infrastructure, and restrictions on access to medicine and healthcare.”  

Putin finds ways to justify the unjustifiable savage invasion

He claims:  

Ukraine has always been a part of Russia; the US/NATO threatens Russia militarily by including countries on the border of Russia (e.g., Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and the prospect that Finland and Sweden will join); Russians in Ukraine are being oppressed by a Nazi, illegitimate Ukrainian state and need to be liberated.

On NATO expansion into eastern Europe, historian Ronald Suny, a Professor of History and Political Science, University of Michigan, points out that it is an issue worth considering, though not a justification for war crimes (https://theconversation.com/ukraine-war-follows-decades-of-warnings-that-nato-expansion-into-eastern-europe-could-provoke-russia-177999). Suny writes:

“The opposing view [to the US/NATO view] argues that Russia’s security concerns are in fact genuine, and that NATO expansion eastward is seen by Russians as directed against their country. Putin has been clear for many years that if continued, the expansion would likely be met with serious resistance by the Russians, even with military action.

“That perspective isn’t held just by Russians; some influential American foreign policy experts have subscribed to it as well.

“Among others, Biden’s CIA director, William J. Burns, has been warning about the provocative effect of NATO expansion on Russia since 1995. That’s when Burns, then a political officer in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, reported to Washington that ‘hostility to early NATO expansion is almost universally felt across the domestic political spectrum here.’”

“In June 1997, 50 prominent foreign policy experts signed an open letter to Clinton, saying, “We believe that the current U.S. led effort to expand NATO … is a policy error of historic proportions” that would “unsettle European stability.”

“In 2008, Burns, then the American ambassador to Moscow, wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: ‘Ukrainian entry into NATO is the brightest of all redlines for the Russian elite (not just Putin). In more than two and a half years of conversations with key Russian players, from knuckle-draggers in the dark recesses of the Kremlin to Putin’s sharpest liberal critics, I have yet to find anyone who views Ukraine in NATO as anything other than a direct challenge to Russian interests.’”

The US/NATO view of Putin’s war

The Russian view on NATO is countered by the US/NATO. Here’s some of what Suny tells us.

“The more widespread and familiar view in the West, particularly in the United States, is that Russia is and has always been an expansionist state, and its current president, Vladimir Putin, is the embodiment of that essential Russian ambition: to build a new Russian empire.

“This was … always about naked aggression, about Putin’s desire for empire by any means necessary,” President Joe Biden said on Feb. 24, 2022.

Additionally, the US/NATO position is that many eastern European countries have “democratically” chosen to join NATO and have a sovereign right to do so.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which is not a NATO member, is an example of why NATO membership for that country should be acceptable, if not now then sometime in the future. Here is a statement from The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (https://nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_192648.htm).

“NATO condemns in the strongest possible terms Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine – which is an independent, peaceful and democratic country, and a close NATO partner. The Alliance calls on President Putin to stop this war immediately, withdraw all his forces from Ukraine without conditions and engage in genuine diplomacy.”

No diplomatic breakthroughs yet, and the Russian devastation of Ukraine continues with terrible effects

So far, in the devastating Russian war on Ukraine, consider: peace negotiations have not made headway; the barbaric Russian destruction and death continues, killing and maiming tens of thousands and creating tens of millions of refugees; Ukrainian forces armed by US/NATO fight back; Putin’s threat that he may order the use of  nuclear weapons keeps the US and its allies avoiding any militarily direct involvement in the war; and there are harmful repercussions from the effects of the war on US/NATO sanctions on global food and fuel commodities. On the last point, see, for example, Bill Conerly’s article, “The Long-Term Economic Effects of the Ukraine War (https://forbes.com/sites/billionerly/2022/03/30/long-term-economic-effects-of-the-ukraine-war/?sh=7bb4f2ad10fa), or Robin Pomeroy’s “How the Ukraine war is driving up food and energy prices for the world” (https://weforum.org/agenda/2022/03/ukraine-energy-and-food-radio-davos), or Sara Menker and Rajiv Shah’s “Putin’s War Has Started a Global Food Crisis” (https://nytimes.com/2022/04/05/opinion/ukraine-war-food-crisis.html).  

Diplomatic proposals

It’s not clear at all what circumstances will bring an end to the Russian onslaught on Ukraine – or to the heightened danger of nuclear war. It’s not for the lack of people, scientists, and movements across the world calling for peace. Here are two examples of peace proposals.

Sources of information on the peril of Nuclear weapons and war

The following websites offer information and analysis justifying de-nuclearization and analyses of the historic and current status of nuclear weapons, associated dangers, hotspots, and more.

——————————————————

“The looming danger of nuclear war: the context and the doomsday clock.”

Overview

The current post was inspired by the 2020 annual report of the Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists specifying its decision to move the minute hand on the “doomsday clock” closer to midnight (end-game for humanity) than ever before in the over 70 years of such decisions. This year’s decision was based on their assessments of the chances for nuclear war and the ongoing cataclysmic advances of the climate crisis. This post focuses on the nuclear war part of the report, since I have recently written on the climate crisis.

There are three parts to my post. The first part provides background and context for understanding the existential threat of nuclear war. The second part reviews the Board’s report. The third part includes my “concluding thoughts.”

The concern about the increasing likelihood of nuclear war is not a topic that much surfaces in the media, or gets much attention in the Democratic presidential primaries, though pocketbook issues understandably resonate with broad swaths of the public. But indications from polls and news reports are that the growing potentiality of nuclear war won’t have much of an impact on how people vote in 2020. However, like the unfolding climate crisis, the growing danger of nuclear war is a well-documented reality that, if we are not extremely lucky, could destroy everything in a wisp of time. And this is not a new concern. Prior to the onset of the Cold War, Albert Einstein sent a telegram on May 1946 to several hundred prominent Americans “asking for contributions to a fund ‘to let the people know that a new type of thinking is essential’ in the atomic age.” In the telegram, he wrote: “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.” Einstein’ statement is truer today than ever.

Part 1 – The historical and contemporary background on nuclear weapons and the threat to human existence

Nuclear weapons are the deadliest of weapons ever created by humans, in this case by scientists with financing by the federal government (i.e., the taxpayers). Along with anthropogenic climate disruption, or “climate change,” nuclear weapons have the potential to destroy all human societies and much of life on the earth. What a sad accomplishment for us creatures with the most complex organ in the universe – the brain.

The Manhattan Project – letting the genie out of the bottle

The project to create nuclear weapons (then called atomic bombs) was initiated by the government and paid for by taxpayers during the early 1940s. The story of the project, called the Manhattan Project, is captured in detail by Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manhattan_Project).

Nuclear weapons – some facts

In hindsight, the creation of atomic bombs appears to have been an expression of the height of human folly by many knowledgeable people and scientists. Whatever, these terribly destructive weapons are a part of present day reality and most civilian and military leaders in the US and Russia, which alone have 93% of the warheads, view them as vital and necessary components of their military arsenals, while basing their views on a hollow and ultimately counter-productive conceptions of  nationalism, “national security,” a vapid patriotism, and the self-serving assumption that nuclear arsenals can be managed in ways that deter the use of these weapons. (Richard Falk takes issue with the view that the existing nuclear arsenals can be managed and makes an argument for banning these weapons: https://popularresistance.org/contesting-management-or-transformation-an-urgent-challenge.

While the issue does not attract much mainstream media attention, it continues to be of utmost importance with 15,500 nuclear weapons stockpiled in the world, according to the Arms Control Association. That includes nuclear warheads that are on delivery vehicles and ready to be launched and thousands of warheads in non-operational status that can readily be made operational (https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Nuclearweaponswhohaswhat).

Some of these warheads are on missiles located on launching pads in the US, on submarines, and on large bombers – and are ready to be launched in just minutes. The Union of Concerned Scientists notes that “the United States still keeps its 450 silo-based nuclear weapons, and hundreds of submarine-based weapons, on hair-trigger alert….around 3,500 total—are deployed on other submarines or bombers, or kept in reserve” (http://www.ucs.usa.org/nuclear-weapons/hair-trigger-alert#.WGbjjeQzXIU). In the meantime, the US military is planning to introduce “‘low-yield’ nuclear weapons on submarine-launched ballistic missiles – weapons that could cause as much damage as the bombs the United States dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The relatively lower-yield of such warheads makes them more likely to be used in a wider range of situations considered to be threatening by the US military command (http://truth-out.org/news/item/43460-pentagon-to-allow-nuclear-responses-to-non-nuclear-attacks).

Perhaps the gravest hotspot, or potential nuclear war situation, is in the highly rancorous and hostile relations between Pakistan (130 nuclear weapons) and India (120 nuclear weapons), particularly over the disputed control of Kashmir. These are two nuclear powers whose troops are within miles of one another. Any slight, accidental, or misunderstood provocation could be the spark that leads to the use of nuclear weapons. And it appears that the Trump administration is aching for the opportunity to wage war on Iran.

There are other nuclear powers, including England, France, China, Israel, and North Korea. At the same time, dozens of countries have the capacity to build nuclear warheads and the means to use them. At one time, six other countries had nuclear weapons but agreed to give them up (Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, South Africa, Iraq, and Libya). There were four other countries on their way to having nuclear weapons and then “shelved their nuclear weapons’ programs” (Argentina, Brazil, South Korea, and Taiwan). These figures come from: https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Nuclearweaponswhohaswhat).

What about other countries. Per the Nuclear Weapons Archive:

“Virtually any industrialized nation today has the technical capability to develop nuclear weapons within several years if the decision to do so were made. Nations already possessing substantial nuclear technology and arms industries could do so in no more than a year or two. The larger industrial nations (Japan and Germany for example) could, within several years of deciding to do so, build arsenals rivaling those planned by Russia and the U.S. for the turn of the millennium….” (http://nuclearweaponsarchive.org/Nwfaq/Nfaq7-5.html).

The point is that the human world is already in a situation in which any one of the nuclear states could use their weapons for any one of a number of reasons – to extend power, preserve a perceived credibility, destroy an “enemy,” avoid a military defeat, or by accident.

It can be safely assumed that most citizens who even think about these weapons have no idea of how fragile nuclear weapons launching technology and procedures are. Couple this with a president who thinks in tweeter-length thoughts, who likes being right and winning every time, who glories in the spotlight, and you end up with an irrational and accident-prone nuclear weapons control and command system.

The crumbling  of nuclear arms agreements between the US and Russia (formerly the Soviet Union)

After having some success in nuclear weapons reduction agreements in the 1960s and first years of the new millennium, the US and Russia now are on a course that is taking the world in the opposite direction, a position taken up and considered later in this post by the board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. This topic has received some attention in the media, especially on important progressive/leftist online websites (e.g., Democracy Now, Truthout, Truthdig, Counterpunch, Antiwar.org).

Daryl Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control organization, reviews the US-Russian nuclear arms control agreements from 1969 to 2014 (https:///www.armscontrol.org/2556).

#1 – A overview of strategic nuclear arms agreements

The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) commenced in November 1969 and led to the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, limiting strategic missile defense to 200, later 100, interceptors each, and then an Interim Agreement, “an executive agreement that capped US and Soviet ICBM and SLBM launch tubes and SLBM-carrying submarines.” There were gaps. “The agreement ignored strategic bombers and did not address warhead numbers, leaving both sides free to enlarge their forces by deploying multiple warheads (MIRVs) onto their ICBMs and SLBMs.” There was a follow-up agreement, SALT II, signed in June 1979, that “limited US and Soviet ICBM, SLBM, and strategic bomber-based nuclear forces to 2,250 delivery vehicles (defined as an ICBM silo, a SLBM launch tube [or missile launcher], or a heavy bomber) and placed a variety of other restrictions on deployed strategic nuclear forces.” However, when the Soviet’s invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, President Jimmy Carter “asked the Senate not to go ahead with the next round of negotiations known as SALT III.

In July 1991, President Ronald Reagan signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), which “required the United States and the Soviet Union to reduce their deployed strategic arsenals to 1,600 delivery vehicles, carrying no more than 6,000 warheads….[and] required the destruction of excess delivery vehicles.” The implementation of this agreement was “delayed for several years because of the collapse of the Soviet Union and ensuing efforts to denuclearize Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus by returning their nuclear weapons to Russia and making them parties to the NPT [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] and Start agreements.” In January 1993, Presidents George H.W. Bush and Boris Yeltsin signed a follow-on agreement, called START II, which “called for reducing deployed strategic arsenals to 3,000-3,500 warheads and banned the deployment of destabilizing multiple-warhead land-based missiles.” However, “START II was effectively shelved as a result of the 2002 US withdrawal from the ABM treaty.” In between 1991 and 2002, Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin “agreed to a framework for START III negotiations… ‘to promote the irreversibility of deep reductions including prevention of a rapid increase in the number of warheads.”

But when START II was abandoned, the negotiations over START III never happened.

Later in 2002, on May 24, 2002, “Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin signed the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT or Moscow treaty), requiring that the United States and Russia reduce their arsenals to 1,700-2,200 warheads each.” This was to take effect on December 31, 2002. One of the limitations of the treaty was that the US limited reductions to warheads “deployed on strategic delivery vehicles in active service, i.e., operationally deployed’ warheads, and would not count warheads removed from service and placed in storage or warheads on delivery vehicles undergoing overhaul or repair. Nonetheless, the Senate and Duma approved the treaty and it entered into force on June 1, 2003.

The process of nuclear arms control agreements got another boost on April 8, 2010, when “the United States and Russia signed New START, a legally binding verifiable agreement that limits each side to 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on 700 strategic delivery systems (ICBMs, SLBMs and heavy bombers), and limits deployed and nondeployed launchers to 800.” This lowered the warhead limits of SORT and included tighter verification requirements, including “on-site inspections and exhibitions, data exchanges and notifications related to strategic offensive arms and facilities covered by the treaty, and provisions to facilitate the use of national technical mans for treaty monitoring.” Additionally, the treaty “provides for the continued exchange of telemetry (missile flight-test data on up to five tests per year) and does not meaningfully limit missile defenses or long-range conventional strike capabilities.” The Treaty was finalized on December 22, 2010, after it was approved by the Russian parliament and the US Senate.

#2 – Non-strategic Nuclear Arms Control Measures

This involves “ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers,” or 311 miles and 3,418 miles. The US and the Soviet Union signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty on December 8, 1987, including ‘intrusive on-site inspections.” The two sides “completed their reductions by June 1, 1991, destroying a total of 2,692 missiles, and later extended after the breakup of the Soviet Union to include “the United States, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine.” The US became concerned in 2014 that Russia was violating the agreement by deploying ground-launched missiles that were prohibited. This would later give Trump a reason to withdraw from the agreement – rather than to seek a negotiated resolution.

The undoing of nuclear arms control agreements

Legal scholar Marjorie Cohn provides an informative analysis of the breakdown of US-Russian nuclear weapons treaties in an article titled “US Refusal to Negotiate with Russia Increases likelihood of Nuclear War” (https://www.truth-out.org/news/item/43811-us-refusal-to-negotiate-with-russia-increases-likelihood-of-nuclear-war). She reminds us that George W. Bush withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty with Russia, which called for the reductions of anti-ballistic missile defenses in both countries. Cohn quotes David Krieger, founder of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation: “The fuel for a new nuclear arms race was already on fire, and a Russian strategic response was predictable, when the US withdrew from the ABM Treaty and began developing a replacing missile defense systems globally. The US withdrawal and abrogation of the ABM Treaty may prove to be the greatest strategic blunder of the nuclear age.” Obama also contributed to the undermining of the nuclear détente with Russia when he signed off on the policy to “modernize” the US nuclear bomb arsenal. The official US nuclear arms position as reflected in the US Nuclear Posture Review has also, Cohn notes, reduced “the threshold for using nuclear weapons in response to non-nuclear attacks, including cyberattacks, in ‘extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States, its allies and partners.”

Enter Donald Trump

Now there is increased concern about US nuclear weapons and control and command over the nuclear arsenals. President-elect Trump has twittered and blustered in his braggadocio, narcissistic manner, that it may be better for the world if even more countries possessed their own nuclear weapons (e.g., Saudi Arabia, Japan, South Korea), implied that he might use nuclear weapons in the Middle East to “wipe out ISIS,” suggested that the US could win an escalated nuclear arms race, has withdrawn the US from the multilateral agreement with Iran over its nuclear energy program, is totally and unconditionally in support of Israel (which is in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation international treaty and whose policies intensify the repression of Palestinians and the expropriation of their land), appears to be committed to streamlining the “modernization” of the US nuclear weapons system. Trump has tweeted: “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.” From Trump’s shallow knowledge of the subject and bully-boy temperament, there is no place for a policy of nuclear weapons reductions or nuclear weapons free zones, such as been proposed for the Middle East.  From what we know, Trump is likely to behave impulsively in a crisis – and order helter-skelter the lunch of nuclear weapons against Iran, Russia, North Korea, or some other perceived adversary. That would cause unimaginatively catastrophic and irreversible war. Indeed, a war to end all wars.

Bear in mind that Trump’s mental instability, impulsiveness, malicious narcissism, and con man approach to policy does not bode well for America or humanity given the power of his presidency. (See the new books: (1) Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig, A Very Stable Genius, and (2) Mark Green and Ralph Nader, Fake President: Decoding Trump’s Gaslighting, Corruption, and General Bullsh*t.)

History professor and author Lawrence Wittner writes on how arms control and disarmament agreements have been “rapidly unraveling” under Trump’s administration (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/07/29/dear-moderates-presidential-debates-how-raising-issues-how-avert-nuclear-war). He gives the following examples. On May 2018, “the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the laboriously-constructed Iran nuclear agreement that had closed off the possibility of that nation developing nuclear weapons.”

Then on February of 2019, “the Trump announced that, in August, the US government will withdraw from the Reagan era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty – the historical agreement that had banned US and Russian ground-launched cruise missiles – and would proceed to develop such weapons.” Russian President Vladimir Putin responded in kind. The 2010 New Start Treaty is also on the chopping block, that is the treaty that “reduces US and Russian deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550 each, limits US and Russian nuclear delivery vehicles, and provides for extensive inspection.”

Wittner notes that if the treaty is allowed to expire, “it would be the first time since 1972 that there would be no nuclear arms control agreement between Russia and the United States.” Then there are other ominous messages from the White House and Pentagon. Wittner adds: Some in Trump’s administration are pressing for a US resumption of nuclear weapons testing. The push for “modernizing the nuclear arsenal, with the introduction of new types of nuclear warheads, is gaining support in the White House, a violation of Article VI of the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. And the US Joints Chiefs of Staff are expressing “new interest in nuclear warfare,” declaring in a June 2019 planning document that “using nuclear weapons could create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability.” 

A history of nuclear weapons accidents

There is a long history of accidents at nuclear weapons’ launching missile sites, both in the US and Russia (formerly the Soviet Union), that came within minutes of starting a nuclear war. This history is painstakingly documented by Eric Schlosser in his book Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, and in an article for The New Yorker, titled “World War Three, by Mistake (Dec 23, 2016). You can find the article at: http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/world-war-three-by-mistake.

Schlosser’s main argument is that “harsh political rhetoric, combined with the vulnerability of the nuclear command-and-control system, has made the risk of global catastrophe greater than ever.” He concludes his long article with the following ominous words.

“My greatest concern is the lack of public awareness about this existential threat, the absence of a vigorous public debate about the nuclear-war plans of Russia and the United States, the silent consent to the roughly fifteen thousand nuclear weapons in the world. These machines have been carefully and ingeniously designed to kill us. Complacency increases the odds that, someday, they will. The ‘Titanic Effect’ is a term used by software designers to explain how things can quietly go wrong in a complex technological system: the safer you assume the system to be, the more dangerous it is becoming.”

Fred Pearce devotes an entire book to how accidents, mis-judgements, out-right lies have almost triggered nuclear war. See his book Fallout: Disasters, Lies, and The Legacy of the Nuclear Age. In his book, The Doomsday Machine, Daniel Ellsberg writes: “every president from Truman to Clinton has felt compelled at some point in time in office – usually in great secrecy – to threaten and/or discuss with the Joint Chiefs of Staff plans and preparation for possible imminent US initiation of tactical or strategic nuclear warfare, in the midst of an ongoing non-nuclear conflict or crisis” (pp .319-322). There were also such instances during the Bush Jr administration and, much more blatantly under Trump, who have talked about bombing North Korea and Afghanistan with nuclear weapons (see Mark Green and Ralph Nader’s book, Fake President: Decoding Trump’s Gaslighting, Corruption, and General Bullsh*t, the chapter on “War and Peace”).  

There are more fingers on the nuclear launch button that the president’s

Ellsberg explains:

“For decades, Americans have been told that there is “exclusive presidential control of the decision to go to nuclear war and how it is to be conducted.” This officially propounded view is “embodied by the iconic ‘football,’ the briefcase carried by a presidential military aide that is to accompany the president ‘at all times,’ containing codes and electronic equipment by which the president, on receiving warning of a nuclear attack, can convey to the military his choice of a response ‘option’ to be executed” (p. 67-68). Ellsberg argues this is not true: “It was not only the president who could make the decision and issue the orders, and not even…the secretary of defense or the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon, but commanders in the field thousands of miles from Washington who thought their forces might be about to be destroyed…. In some circumstances, commanders of four-star rank could issue in their own name an authorized directive to undertake nuclear attack without the immediate prior involvement of the president” (p. 68).

This “hidden” decentralized command structure is considered to be necessary because of the threat of decapitation, that is, that the president and other high government officials in Washington DC could be wiped out by a surprise nuclear attack. Ellsberg puts it this way. “A single nuclear warhead on the capital could kill not only the president but all of his legally designated successors in the cabinet and Congress (and the JCS along with the secretary of defense, the only civilian aside from the president in the military chain of command) – all of them who were in town at that moment. If nuclear deterrence were to have any substantial backing at all – if it were to be more than an empty bluff – it could not be the case that one such explosion would definitively block any authorized, coordinated nuclear response to that or any subsequent attack” (p. 69).

America’s “First Use”policy of nuclear weapons

Ellsberg makes this point.

“Preparation for preemption or for carrying out threats of first use or first strike remains the essence of the ‘modernization’ program for strategic weapons for the last seventy years – prospectively being extended by Presidents Obama and Trump to one hundred years – that has continuously benefited our military-industrial-complex” (p. 324)….“The felt political need to profess, at least, to believe that the ability to make and carry out nuclear threats is essential to US national security and to our leadership in our alliances is why every single president has refused to make a formal ‘no-first-use’ (NFU) commitment” (p. 324)

“…the United States has tenaciously resisted the pleas of most other nations in the world to make an NFU pledge as an essential basis for stopping proliferation, including at the Nonproliferation Treaty Extension Conference in 1995 and the Review Conference since 2000. Moreover, the United States has demanded that NATO continue to legitimize first-use threat by basing its own strategy on them, even after the USSR and the Warsaw Pact had dissolved (and most of the former Pact members had joined NATO. Yet this stubborn stance – along with actual threats of possible US nuclear first use in more recent confrontations with Iraq, North Korea, and Iran – virtually precludes effective leadership by the United States (and perhaps anyone else) in delegitimizing and averting further proliferation and even imitation of US use of nuclear weapons” (324-325)

“UN Resolution 36/100, the Declaration on the Prevention of Nuclear Catastrophe… was adopted on December 9, 1981, in the wake of Reagan’s endorsement of the Carter Doctrine – openly extending US first-use threats to the Persian Gulf – which this resolution directly contradicted and implicitly condemned. It declares in its preamble: ‘Any doctrine allowing the first use of nuclear weapons and any actions pushing the world toward a catastrophe are incompatible with human moral standards and the lofty ideals of the UN” (p. 325) – 82 nations voted in favor of it, 41 abstained (under pressure from US), 19 opposed it (including the US, Israel and most NATO member nations).”

Nuclear Winter

No nation, no people, can survive an even limited, regional nuclear war with warheads in the present nuclear arsenals. Even a first-use attack by, say, the US to destroy the nuclear-launching capacity of, say Russia, would produce a worldwide catastrophe. The smoke from nuclear bomb blasts would rise into the atmosphere and remain there for an extended period, enough to cripple food production around the world. (See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_winter). There are no winners in nuclear war. However, the “doctors strange loves” in the Pentagon are busy at designing smaller nuclear weapons that may not themselves produce a nuclear winter.

Other effects of a nuclear war

Then there is the radiation from nuclear blasts. Robert Jacobs describes some of the chaos and hardship that would prevail after nuclear war had commenced (https://truth-out.org/news/item/3290-we-cannot-survive-a-nuclear-apocalpse-by-ducking-and-covering). He offers this graphic example: “After a nuclear attack, the suggestion that one [a survivor] can go somewhere and find clean water is ridiculous. Or that one could take their contaminated clothes off and simply find uncontaminated clothes nearby. Or that washing your hair one time will remove the systemic dangers of being in a radiologically contaminated environment, and your hair would not simply reabsorb some of that radiation. Or that shampoo would be contaminated, etc.” Jacobs refers to a study by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) which concluded that the radiation produced by a hydrogen bomb “detonated over Washington DC would have the following effects: “not only would everyone in Washington DC be dead from the blast and heat of the weapons, but everyone in Baltimore, Philadelphia and half the population of New York City would soon die of radiation sickness if they did not immediately evacuate.”

Part 2 – The Minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is moved closer to “midnight.”

The Science and Security board of The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists have just made their annual adjustment of “the doomsday clock” (https://thebulletin.org/doomsday-clock/current-time). The prestigious scientific board uses the doomsday clock as a symbol of how distant or close the minute hand is from midnight, which, if ever reached, would, in their considered estimation, result in a cataclysmic outcome, most likely the end of humanity and much of life on the planet in the case of nuclear war.

In their 2020 report, editor John Mecklin writes: “the members of the Science and Security Board have concluded that the complex technological threats the world faces are at least as dangerous today as they were last year and the year before, when we set the Clock at two minutes to midnight (as close as it had ever been, and the same setting that was announced in 1953, after the United States and the Soviet Union tested their first thermonuclear weapons).” In January, the board moved the minute hand to 100 seconds before midnight, the closest it has ever been to this end-game time over all the years the board has been publishing its assessments. While the board includes both the prospects of climate change as well as nuclear war in is recent decisions, the focus in this post will be on the threat of nuclear war. (I have recently written on the climate crisis.)

The board offers two multifaceted justifications for its decision. One is that the danger of nuclear war is increased by “cyber-enabled information warfare.” This is a multifaceted technology that will have the effect of reducing the time it takes to recognize a nuclear missile attack, but at the same time increases the chances of launching nuclear bombs because of mistaken information….computers that control bombs may be hacked….“many governments used cyber-enabled disinformation campaigns to sow distrust in institutions and among nations.”

They refer specifically to “the emergence of new destabilizing technologies in artificial intelligence, space, hypersonics, and biology,” all of which, the board contends, “portend a dangerous and multifaceted global instability.” ICAN provides an in-depth analysis of how these “emerging technologies” increase the risk of nuclear war, as they “add another layer of risk to an already unacceptable level of risk of nuclear weapons use” (https://popularresistance.org/emerging-technologies-and-nuclear-risks ). A 2018 study by Chatham House of cyber security and nuclear weapons found, according to ICAN: “The risks of a cyber-attack on nuclear weapons systems raise significant doubts about the reliability and integrity of such systems in a time crisis, regarding the ability to: a) launch a weapon b) prevent an inadvertent attack c) maintain command and control of all military system d) transmit information and other communication e) maintenance and reliability of such systems.”

The board’s second justification for moving the minute hand on the doomsday clock closer to midnight concerns that the heightened danger of nuclear war is compounded by the erosion of the “international political infrastructure for managing” the nuclear arsenals of the US and other countries. “They write: “national leaders have ended or undermined several major arms control treaties and negotiations during the last year, creating an environment conducive to a renewed nuclear arms race, to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and to lowered barriers to nuclear war. Political conflicts regarding nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea remain unresolved and are, if anything, worsening. US-Russia cooperation on arms control and disarmament is all but nonexistent.”

The Board concludes its report on a positive note, despite all the bad news, and assume, first, the nuclear dangers can be potentially managed and kept from happening and, second, that “there are many practical, concrete steps that leaders could take – and citizens should demand – to improve the current, absolutely unacceptable state of world security affairs.” What are the practical steps? 

“US and Russian leaders can return to the negotiating table to: reinstate the INF Treaty or take other action to restrain an unnecessary arms race in medium-range missiles; extend the limits of the New START beyond 2021; seek further reductions in nuclear arms; discuss a lowering of the alert status of the nuclear arsenals of both countries; limit nuclear modernization programs that threaten to create a new nuclear arms race; and start talks on cyber warfare, missile defenses, the militarization of space, hypersonic technology, and the elimination of battlefield nuclear weapons.”

Further: “The United States and other signatories of the Iran nuclear deal can work together to restrain nuclear proliferation in the Middle East….Whoever wins the United States’ 2020 presidential election must prioritize dealing with this problem, whether through a return to the original nuclear agreement or via negotiation of a new and broader accord.”

Additionally: “The international community should begin multilateral discussions aimed at establishing norms of behavior, both domestic and international, that discourage and penalize the misuse of science.”

Finally, there must be attention given to the need “to prevent information technology from undermining public trust in political institutions, in the media, and in the existence of objective reality itself. Cyber-enabled information warfare is a threat to the common good. Deception campaigns – and leaders intent on blurring the line between fact and politically motivated fantasy – are a profound threat to effective democracies, reducing their ability to address nuclear weapons, climate change, and other existential dangers.”

Part 3 – Concluding thoughts

The proposals by the Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists may be the best that can be advanced, however unlikely they are to be implemented, especially during the ascendancy of the Trump administration. Trump often refers to nuclear weapons as a tool to be used to threaten and intimidate adversarial nations at a whim, to get attention, or to really mean it without any understanding or regard of the dreadful and irretrievable consequences of launching nuclear weapons. As the nuclear situation stands now, one thing is crystal clear, that is, Trump, the Republican Party, and their corporate enablers will not follow the recommendations of the Board or anyone else who proposes that more diplomacy with the goal of multilateral agreements should be the basis for moving away from “midnight,” with the goal of phasing out nuclear weapons.

Indeed, in a rationale world based on verifiable, scientifically based evidence, the world leaders would be not only taking “practical” steps to reduce the chances of war but making efforts to ban nuclear weapons altogether. This is not so far-fetched. On July 7, 2017, “some 130 countries” at the United Nations successfully negotiated a treaty to outlaw nuclear weapons and, according to a report by Kennette Benedict for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, “agreed to make the developing, testing, manufacturing, possessing, or stockpiling of nuclear weapons by any state illegal” (https://thebulletin.org/prohibition-nuclear-weapons-treaty-10936). As with the festering and accelerating climate crisis, nations have little time to come together and truly advance such an effort.

In the US, the 2020 elections will represent a seminal moment in the country’s history. If Trump and the Republicans win, the existential threats faced by the country – and the world – will be ignored and made worse than they are. If “moderate” Democrats win, then there is the possibility that the threats will be acknowledged but insufficiently addressed. It will take political candidates with transformative agendas to give the country a chance of possibly advancing policies that lead us away from the “midnight” of nuclear war. The odds of this happening are not good, but not impossible.

There is some public concern. Wittner refers to a May 2019 opinion poll by the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland that found “two-thirds of US respondents favored remaining within the INF Treaty, 80 percent wanted to extend the New START Treaty, about 60% supported ‘phasing out’ US intercontinental ballistic missiles, and 75 percent back legislation requiring congressional approval before the president could order a nuclear attack” (cited previously). Dahr Jamail offers a detailed report (Truthout, Nov 11, 2018) on how “physicians work to bring back the anti-nuclear movement (https://truthout.org/articles/physicians-work-to-bring-back-the-anti-nuclear-movement).

According to an article by Jon Letman (Truthout, January 13, 2020), “cities in the crosshairs are pushing back against nuclear weapons” (https://truthout.org/articles/cities-in-the-crosshairs-are-pushing-back-against-nuclear-weapons).

And, in a report by Marjorie Cohn (Truthout, Oct 28, 2019), some brave anti-nuclear activists engage in non-violent acts of disobedience against US nuclear facilities, even though it may result in long-term imprisonment (https://truthout.org/articles/convicted-anti-nuclear-activists-speak-out-pentagon-has-brainwashed-people).

James Carden writes in an article for the Nation magazine (Oct 2, 2019): “women state legislators and advocacy groups are uniting to call for a no-first-use nuclear policy” (https://thenation.com/article/trump-nuclear-proliferation).  There are, moreover, some Democrats in the US Congress who vote against increases in the bloated military budget and who favor nuclear arms control initiatives, if not a ban on these horrendous weapons.

Are there military limits to the war in Ukraine?

Bob Sheak, March 22, 2022

Introduction

Putin views the entirety of Ukraine as an historical and integral part of Russia and wants to reclaim it all. And, if total Russian control of Ukraine is not achieved, Putin wants to make sure that Ukraine never joins NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization), a concern that grows out of the expansion of NATO membership to include countries in Eastern Europe on the border of Russia.

Jen Kirby and Jonathan Guyer quote Putin on the first point saying,

“Ukraine is not just a neighboring country for us. It is an inalienable part of our own history, culture and spiritual space,” he said, per the Kremlin’s official translation. “Since time immemorial, the people living in the south-west of what has historically been Russian land have called themselves Russians” (https://vox.com/2022/2/23/22948534/russia-ukraine-war-putin-explosives-invasion-explained).

Putin is also concerned that NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe on Russia’s border since the 1990s, especially during the US presidency of George W. Bush, threatens Russia’s national security. Note that NATO, is a military alliance that was formed by the U.S., Canada and several European nations in 1949 to contain the USSR and the spread of communism.

In an article for Wall Street Journal, Daniel Michaels identifies the six NATO member states that particularly worries Putin (https://wsj.com/articles/what-is-nato-russia-ukraine-which-countries-members-no-fly-article-5-11646236897). Michaels tells us,

“There are [now] 30 member states in the NATO alliance. Ukraine isn’t a member. The only members that were part of the Soviet Union are the Baltic states: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Other countries that were part of the USSR-led Warsaw Pact and now are NATO members include Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria.” 

M.E. Sarotte, Kravis Professor of Historical Studies at John Hopkins University, has written a book documenting that, with the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the unification of Germany, Russian leaders were assured that NATO would not move “one inch eastward” (Not One Inch: America, Russia, and the Making of Post-Cold War Stalemate).

Ronald Suny, Professor of History and Political Science, University of Michigan, agrees, writing,

“Recognizing the sovereignty of all states and their right to ally with whatever state they wish, NATO acceded over time to the requests of European democracies to join the alliance. Former members of the Soviet-established Warsaw Pact, which was a Soviet version of NATO, were also brought into NATO in the 1990s, along with three former Soviet republics – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – in 2004.

“The Western view is that the Kremlin is supposed to understand and accept that the alliance’s activities, among them war games replete with American tanks staged in nearby Baltic states and rockets stationed in Poland and Romania – which [and this is incredulous] the U.S. says are aimed at Iran – in no way present a threat to Russian security” (https://counterpunch.org/2022/03/03/235816). And, to top it off, Ukraine has been interested in NATO membership as well, though Zelensky has recently said that this is not now a likely development. In short, the US and other NATO members may have made a mistake in allowing the expansion to take place and unnecessarily provoking nuclear-armed Russia.

Given this historic miscalculation, there is also absolutely no justification for Russia’s invasion and genocidal onslaught on Ukraine, with devastating aerial and artillery attacks, hoping to bomb the Ukrainian population into submission, while killing and wounding many thousands, destroying infrastructure, and creating one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in Europe since WWII.

(According to the Cambridge Dictionary, genocide is “the murder of a whole group of peopleespecially a whole nationrace, or religious group.
https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/genocide.)

Though US and its allies are sending large quantities of weapons to Ukraine, the actual fighting so far is left to Ukrainian troops and ill-trained volunteers. They have done surprisingly well in defending their country. Indeed, columnist

Max Boot things the Ukrainians defenders are “winning”

(https://washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/03/21/ukraine-is-winning-war-russia-offensive-putin). He writes:

“Nearly four weeks into the Russo-Ukraine war, the situation is going from bad to worse for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. Garry Kasparov [Russian chess master] reported on Saturday that a joke is making the rounds on what is left of the Russian Internet: ‘We are now entering day 24 of the special military operation to take Kyiv in two days.”

“The Russian offensive has already “culminated” — a military term meaning that an army can no longer continue attacking — without having achieved most of its objectives. Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War and the American Enterprise Institute, two Washington think tanks, assess that ‘Ukrainian forces have defeated the initial Russian campaign of this war.’ The war is stalemated.”

Sadly, however, Ukrainian defenders have been virtually helpless in defending against Russia’s escalating air war and artillery and the devastation, death, and displacement of civilians continues to rise.

Amid it all, Putin will, so far, only “negotiate” on his own terms: that Russia replaces the present “Nazi” government in Ukraine with one of his own choosing, that Ukraine never join NATO, and that it eliminates its military forces and implicitly rely on Russia for its national security. In other words, he demands that Ukraine surrender.

There appear no limits in Putin’s utter ruthlessness in Putin’s genocidal war in Ukraine and in his veiled threats to use chemical and/or nuclear weapons. The implication of his stated aims and actions is that he will destroy Ukraine if he cannot dominate it.

At the same time, there is a lesson for US and European policymakers, which is that a militaristic policy in today’s world (e.g., the expansion of NATO; the existence of nuclear armed Russia) is counterproductive, unnecessarily provocative, and pays too little attention to diplomacy and negotiations.

Russia has invaded Ukraine twice this century, in 2014 and now in 2022

The two attacks in 8 years signifies the importance Putin places on Ukraine.

2014

In the interview on Democracy Now, Joshua Yaffa points out that in 2014 Russia  annexed Crimea and “launched a would-be separatist war backing rebel militias in the Donbas, leading to a war that really went on into the current day, a war that never really ended but was limited to these eastern territories in the Donbas region of Ukraine” (https://democracynow.org/2022/03/15/joshua_yaffe_russian_invasion_ukraine_curfew).

Kirby and Guyer write: “In 2014, Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula, invaded eastern Ukraine, and backed Russian separatists in the eastern Donbas region.” Even before the current invasion, “that conflict had killed more than 15,000 people.” The 2014 assault, they add, was in response to “mass protests in Ukraine that toppled the country’s pro-Russian President Vicktor Yanukovych.”

Events leading up to Russian invasion in 2014

The editors of Encyclopedia Britannica provide an informative historical account of Ukrainian politics (https://britannica.com/place/Ukraine/The-Orange-Revolution-and-the-Yuchenko-presidency)

The editors identify how Ukraine has been somewhat divided between those outside and inside of the eastern Donbas region, but that Yanukovych, a favorite of Russia, had been elected president in 2004 in what was considered to be a fair election. However, subsequent elections proved to be contested and controversial. Those outside of Donbas generally favored the integration of Ukraine with the European Union and even with NATO. Separatists in the Donbas wanted integration with Russia. Protests and riots broke out in January 2014 in which the participants wanted more ties to the US and Europe.

The Britannica editors continue. 

“Yanukovych signed a series of laws restricting the right to protest, and hundreds of thousands took to the streets of Kyiv in response. Bloody clashes between police and protesters ensued, with dozens injured on each side. On January 22 [of 2014] two protesters were killed in skirmishes with police, and demonstrations soon spread to eastern Ukraine, a region that traditionally had supported Yanukovych and closer ties with Russia. Protesters occupied the justice ministry in Kyiv, and the parliament hastily repealed the anti-protest measures.” In the swirl of fractious events and the crumbling of his base, Yanukovych “fled the capital ahead of an impeachment vote that stripped him of his powers as president.”

Putin would define the ouster of pro-Russian Yanukovych as an un-democratic takeover by far-right political actors, referring to them as Nazis who wanted to repress and kill Russians living in Ukraine. Taking advantage of the turmoil, Putin annexed Crimea and supported separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces of the eastern Donbas region.

Donetsk and Luhansk provinces

Masur Mirovalev provides some further background (https://aljazeera.com/news/2022/2/22/what-are-donetsk-and-luhansk-ukraine-separatist-statelets).

“Moscow-backed separatists have controlled the southeastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, known collectively as Donbas, for almost eight years [since 2014].

“But Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized them [officially] only on Monday [Feb. 21, 2022], paving the way for the official presence of Russian troops in the rebel-controlled areas that occupy about a third of Donetsk and Luhansk.

“So far, only Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Syria have joined Putin in recognizing Donetsk and Luhansk – along with breakaway Georgian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.”

One of the issues before the Ukrainians now, in March of 2022, is whether Russia will ever give up control of the Donbas provinces or will demand a partition of the country in which the two provinces are defined as independent states. Putin will never give up control of Crimea.

Crimea

In an article of the UK’s inews, Jane Clinton addresses the questions of why Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, what happened when Putin invaded, and how NATO reacted to the annexation (https://inews.co.uk/news/world/russia-annex-crimea-why-putin-invaded-2014-what-happened-nato-annexation-explained-1424682).

She points out that that the Crimean Peninsula was transferred by then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to Ukraine in the 1950s. Decades later, “in 1991, Ukraine declared independence following an attempted coup in Moscow.” From 1991 until 2014, Crimea was recognized as part of Ukraine. However, after “Yanukovych fled to Russia in February 2014, Russia mobilized its troops to seize control of Crimea.”

This occurred amid “pro-Russian demonstrations in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol. A month later on March 16, 2014, “a disputed and internationally rejected referendum was held… in which Moscow claims 96.77 per cent of Crimeans voted to become part of Russia.” And: “Despite international outcry, Russia then formally incorporated Crimea as two Russian federal subjects – the Republic of Crimea and the federal city of Sevastopol – on 18 March 2014.”

At the time, President Vladimir Putin insisted Russia takeover of Crimea was undertaken “to protect ethnic Russians from ‘far-right extremists’ whom Russia claimed at the time had overthrown President Yanukovych.” This is the kind of false claim that Putin will make again in February 2022 as part of his justification for invading Ukraine. The Russian control of Crimea was and is important to the Russians because it gave them access to important ports on the Black Sea and because of Putin’s vision of creating a greater, imperial Russia.

The international community did not and does not now recognize the Russian takeover of Crimea. In 2014, the EU and US imposed sanctions on Russia. Some in Crimea face discrimination and economic difficulties. According to Clinton, Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars and other ethnic and religious groups continue to face cultural discrimination, education in Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar languages is restricted, wages have been cut back by 30 per cent to 70 per cent, tourism, a main industry, has suffered, and Crimean agriculture production has declined as Ukraine cut off supplies of water through the North Crimean Canal.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022

The Russian invasion of Ukraine began early on February 24, when Russian President Vladimir Putin launched what he called a “special military operation.” In fact, it was a full-scale invasion, from the ground and from the air. According to a report by Vox journalists Jen Kirby and Jonathan Guyer, the attacks occurred on three fronts, from Belarus in the North, from and on the eastern Donbas region, and from Crimea in the South (https://vox.com/2022/2/23/22948534/russia-ukraine-war-putin-explosives-invasion-explained).

Joshua Yaffa, contributing writer to The New Yorker, was in the city of Kramatorsk in the Donbas when Russian missiles struck the city on the first day of the invastion(https://democracynow.org/2022/03/15/joshua_yaffe_russian_invasion_ukraine_curfew).

“I was woken up at 5 a.m. [March 24, 2022] to the thunderous sound of missile strikes hitting the city of Kramatorsk in the Donbas, where I was at the time. And when I woke up at 5 a.m. to the sound of these missile strikes hitting nearby, I opened my phone and looked at the news and saw, on the one hand, that Putin was delivering this early-morning speech in Moscow declaring the start of what he called a “special military operation,” but what in fact was clearly an invasion and clearly a war, and that strikes were happening all over the country, in Kharkiv, in Kyiv, even in the west of the country, the areas that few thought the Russian invasion would reach.”

The invasion had been anticipated

The invasion had been anticipated by Ukrainians for months, as the Russians had built up their forces along the border to 150,000 troops and tanks in prior months.

Then Putin ordered the invasion and quickly escalated the ground and air attacks over the ensuing weeks. The bombs from aircraft (and drones) and missiles, launched from within Russia, gave the invading forces the capacity to strike targets anywhere in Ukraine. In support of Ukraine, the US and its allies are shipping massive volumes of military equipment to Ukraine, though, as noted earlier, are unwilling to support a “no fly zone” initiative. The Ukrainian President Zelensky has pleaded for support from the US to contest Russia’s air war, but to no avail. Meanwhile, there are efforts to find other ways to contest Russia’s devastating air war without engaging US or European forces directly.

As the situation exists in March 2022, Putin seems to be motivated by two possible eventualities, that is, either Ukraine gives up its independence and submits to Russia’s demands, becoming a puppet state, or his forces continue the ravaging of the country. President Zelensky, his government, and most Ukrainians are so far unwilling to give in to such demands. They want Russian troops out of the country, the bombardment to end, though they are willing to compromise on Crimea while negotiating on the fate of the Donbas.

While there are periodic negotiations between Ukraine and Russia and they are scheduled to continue, the negotiations have yet to yield any positive results. Most recently, Russia has demanded that the Ukrainian government surrender Mariupol, which has been under deadly siege. According to Radio Free Europe (https://rferl.org/a/ukraine-ignores-mariupol-deadline-russia-seige/31762847.html),

“Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy remained defiant as Kyiv [the Ukrainian capitol] rejected a Russian ultimatum to surrender Mariupol, saying Ukraine could never give up the strategic port or other cities, including Kharkiv and the capital.

“In comments to local media on March 21, Zelenskiy accused Moscow of trying to ‘destroy’ his country. ‘Ukraine cannot fulfill Russian ultimatums,’ he said. ‘We should be destroyed first, then their ultimatum would be fulfilled.’

“He said the Russians wanted Ukraine to ‘hand over’ the cities of Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Mariupol but that neither the Ukrainian people ‘nor me, as president, can do this.’”

So, the Russian attacks continue, creating a crisis in Europe like that associated with the horrors of WWII.

Meanwhile the US, with far-ranging international support, has instituted economic sanctions on Russia that have already had severe impacts on the Russian economy and people. But they have yet to deter Putin’s war.

The unbridled destruction and death

As the war continues, towns and parts of cities have been devasted, Ukrainian civilians, especially children, women, the disabled, and the elderly have been injured, killed, or turned into over 3.5 million refugees leaving the country for Poland and other Eastern European countries.

Jan Laptka and Alicja report on March 20 for Reuters on data compiled by the U.N. refugee agencies (https://usnews.com/news/world/articles/2022-03-20/flow-of-ukrainian-refugees-testing-limits-of-central-europe-capacity). Most of the Ukrainian refugees are going to Poland, Slovakia, Romania, and Hungary, though now these countries are finding it increasingly difficult to shelter and feed them.

The populations displacement is greater within Ukraine. Jessica Corbett reports “the Global Protection Cluster (GPC)—a network NGOs, international groups, and U.N. agencies—said Friday [March 18] that nearly 6.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) are now seeking safety within the country’s borders” (https://salon.com/2022/03/20/10-million-ukrainians-now-displaced_partner).

The two populations of refugees add up to about 10 million persons out of a population of 44 million, meaning “nearly a quarter of all Ukrainians are now displaced either inside or out of the country.”

There are, furthermore, an additional over 12 million people who “are estimated to be stranded in affected areas [e.g., Mariupol] or unable to leave due to heightened security risks, destruction of bridges and roads, as well as lack of resources or information on where to find safety and accommodation.” The stranded population is not officially counted as displaced, but are forced to exist in the most dreadful – and ultimately unsustainable – conditions.

Moreover, the Russian attacks have already destroyed at least $100 billion worth of infrastructure, which, Corbett reports, severely impacts “the country’s internal food chain—as well as the global supplies of wheat and other grains, because of disruptions to production and exports.” And in some cities, such as Mariupol and Sumy, residents face critical and potentially fatal shortages of food, water, and medicines.”

As the Russian war continues, the number of displaced and desperate people continues to rise. The infrastructure, whole neighborhoods, hospitals, schools, museums, roads, and bridges are being destroyed, and, despite foreign humanitarian aid, there are, as noted, growing shortages of food, water, and all the basic necessities of life.

In an article for The Washington Post on March 14, Ruby Mellen and her colleagues describes some many incidences of the increasing devastation wrought by Putin’s military forces

(https://washingtonpost.com/world/interactive/2022/ukraine-before-destruction-photos/?itid=hp-top-table-main). Here are just a few examples from the article.

  • In less than three weeks, Ukraine’s apartment buildings, once warm homes to families and pets, have become impossible to live in. Infrastructure that once served millions, has become inoperable, unusable. City centers full of shoppers have been reduced to rubble. Hospitals meant to provide care and sanctuary have become scenes of destruction.
  • Moscow’s shelling of civilians and apparent disregard for cease-fires and humanitarian corridors has sparked international outrage. On Wednesday [March 9], a maternity hospital in Mariupol — a city strategically important to Russia — was bombed, killing at least four people, including a pregnant woman. Children and medical workers were among the more than a dozen injured.

Mariupol, Ukraine

  • The World Health Organization said it had verified 24 attacks on health-care facilities….
  • As Russia continues to bombard the seaside city, aid groups warn many residents are without water, food or medicine.
  • Experts say that the casualties and immediate destruction of these attacks are just the beginning of the humanitarian toll.
  • “The brutality of war isn’t in the immediate moment of violence, however horrific it may be. It is in the reverberation of these violent moments through time,” said Mark Kersten, a researcher at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. “That suffering lasts much longer than the time it takes us to look at an image and turn away.”

Homes destroyed

  • Some of the buildings hit are in residential areas, where analysts have noted there are no military targets nearby. Strikes on houses or apartment buildings often render the structure unlivable, leaving many displaced.
  • Once a building is struck, said Maria Avdeeva, research director of the European Expert Association, a nonprofit think tank, “people don’t have heat or power. It’s not possible for people to stay there.” In Kharkiv, where Avdeeva is based and has been documenting the destruction, temperatures remain below freezing most of the time, further increasing the danger for those without shelter.

The threat of a wider war

Jake Johnson reports that on March 13 Russian bombs struck a Ukrainian military base in the western parts of the country near Poland (https://commondreams.org/news/2022/03/13/russia-bombs-ukrainian-military-base-near-border-nato-member-poland). He writes:

“Russian forces on Sunday bombed a Ukrainian military facility located just 22 miles from the border of NATO member Poland, killing at least 35 people and injuring dozens more.

“Prior to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the facility hosted NATO drills and U.S. troops used it to train Ukrainian forces on the deployment of anti-tank missiles and other weaponry. The base has been described as ‘a vital link in the pipeline to get weapons from NATO allies into Ukraine.’

“It’s unclear whether there were any foreign instructors at the complex at the time of the strike early Sunday morning [March 13], Reuters reported. Just two weeks before Russia launched its invasion, the Pentagon withdrew around 160 U.S. military trainers from Ukraine.

“‘Russia has attacked the International Center for Peacekeeping and Security near Lviv,’ Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine’s defense minister, wrote on Twitter. ‘Foreign instructors work here. Information about the victims is being clarified. This is a new terrorist attack on peace and security near the E.U.-NATO border.’”

On March 14, Russian missiles exploded bombs on Novoyavorivsk, Ukraine, just 12 miles from the Polish border, in an attempt or threat to destroy weapons shipments from the US and Europe, according to a report by Nicholas Niarchos for The Nation magazine (https://thenation.com/article/world/russia-novoyavorivsk-attack-base). The target is a giant base that “known as the International Peacekeeping and Security Center. At 390 square kilometers (approximately 150 square miles), it is one of the largest such facilities in the region; the base can host almost 1,800 soldiers, but the Ukrainian government hasn’t disclosed how many troops were there at the time of the explosions.”

Here’s more from Niarchos’s reporting.

“shortly after 5:30 in the morning, residents started to hear explosions. Eight missiles slammed into a military base where, until early March, British troops had been involved in joint training programs with Ukrainian forces. In recent weeks, foreign fighters joining Ukraine’s foreign legion were based there. More than 20,000 foreigners, including a number from the United States, have joined the Ukrainian Foreign Legion. Up to 1,000 foreign fighters were staying at the base, according to The New York Times. Preliminary reports put the number of dead at anywhere between nine and 39. Some 57 were said to be wounded. It was unclear Sunday morning if foreign fighters had been killed in the strike.

“Halfway into the third week of Russia’s war on Ukraine, the attack on the base near Novoyavorivsk—just 12 miles from the Polish border—is the closest strike on NATO territory since the beginning of the conflict. It occurred near the city of Lviv, which is a transit point for hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the Russian advance, and a base for foreign journalists and diplomats. In Poland, anti-Russian sentiment is running high, and any perceived attack on Polish forces or territory risks drawing NATO into a wider war with Russia.

“The strike came a day after Moscow’s foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, warned the United States on Russia’s Channel One not to transfer weapons to Ukraine, and said that convoys with weapons for Ukraine could be targeted. He did not specify whether such strikes would take place only on Ukrainian soil.

“According to the Ukrainian government, some 38 missiles were fired at Novoyavorivsk from across the Belarussian border, and eight breached Ukraine’s air defenses. Two days ago, Russian missiles struck targets outside the nearby cities of Lutsk and Ivanofrankivsk.”

Russian war crimes

In an article for The Washington Post, Claire Parker describes the internationally-recognized meaning of “war crimes” (https://washingtonpost.com/world/2022/03/03/russia-ukraine-war-crimes-explainer). The concept originated in the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals after World War II, and were subsequently “spelled out in international treaties such as the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court in 2002 to prosecute individuals responsible for war crimes, along with crimes against humanity and genocide — themselves complex terms with their own set of legal parameters.”

In these treaties, “[w]ar crimes include the deliberate targeting of civilians; attacks that cause disproportionate civilian casualties given the military objective; and attacks on hospitals, schools, historic monuments and other key civilian sites.”

Parker continues.

“Zelensky…alleged Friday that Russia’s launch of a projectile that caused a fire at a nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine was a ‘war crime.’ The Rome statute specifies that intentionally launching an attack that will cause ‘widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment” could be a crime, depending on the circumstances.” Additionally,

  • The use of certain weapons, including chemical ones, is also prohibited.
  • Cluster munitions, which scatter bomblets indiscriminately and leave unexploded duds that pose dangers to civilians after the conflict, are banned by many nations — but not Russia and Ukraine. Russia’s alleged use of those weapons in Ukraine, as well as ‘vacuum weapons,’ isn’t automatically illegal, Schabas said. That determination depends on whether Russia took steps to avoid harming civilians.
  • There’s also a separate legal category of crimes against humanity, which includes mass murder, enslavement and torture.”

The accumulating evidence seems to warrant the conclusion that Putin and the Russian military are engaged in “war crimes.” David Miliband gives an example ((https://democracynow.org/2022/3/10/irc_david_miliband_on_russian_shelling).  

“Yes, I think we’ve got a classic siege situation compounded by indiscriminate use of missile and bombing tactics of civilian infrastructure, including the hospital that was bombed yesterday [in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol on March 9], which is obviously completely contrary to international law. I think it’s also important to remind people that the water supplies have also been cut off and the electricity as well. So, this is a strangulation of the city. It seems that the Russian army is trying to make an example of this city. It’s a punishment campaign that is going on, a collective punishment campaign, that was tried in Aleppo and was tried in Grozny. When people talk about flattening a city, that’s what you are seeing at the moment.”

The UN General Assembly has condemned Russia over the Ukraine invasion

In late February, according to a report by NPR’s Peter Granitz and Joe Hernandez, the UN Security Council addressed the issue of whether to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (https://npr.org/2022/03/02/1083872027/u-n-set-to-hold-vote-that-would-demand-russia-end-war-in-ukraine).

The organizational structure of the United Nations is unique and cumbersome. The UN Security Council has ultimate power in the international organization. It only takes one of the permanent five members of this 15-person agency to prevent any action. Russia vetoed the proposed condemnation of the war (of itself), while 11 nations supported it and China, India, and the United Arab Emirates abstained. The five permanent members include: the US, UK, France, Russia, and China.

In an article for Reuters, Humeyra Pamuk and Jonathan Landay report that, on March 2, the U.N. General Assembly, in which over 190 nations have membership, took up the issue and in historic vote condemned Russia for its invasion of Ukraine (https://reuters.com/world/un-general-assembly-set-censure-russia-over-ukraine-invasion-2022-03-02).

The resolution, deploring Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, was passed in an emergency session supported “by 141 of the assembly’s 193 members.” Voting against the resolution, “Russia was joined by Belarus, which has served as a launch pad for Russian invasion forces, Eritrea, North Korea and Syria,” while thirty-five members, including China, abstained.” Such resolutions, however, are non-binding, but “they carry political weight, with Wednesday’s vote representing a symbolic victory for Ukraine and increasing Moscow’s international isolation.” Even Russia’s traditional ally Serbia voted against Russia. Pamuk and Landay quote Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky who said in a tweet that the vote’s passage showed that “a global anti-Putin coalition has been formed and is functioning.”

Ukrainian military resistance

At the same time, with increasing arms from the US and Europe, the Ukrainian army has been able to win some battles and limit the advance of and even push back Russian troops in some places. For example, as of March 19, they have kept the Russian army from overtaking Kiev. Outside of perhaps separatists in the Donbas region, Ukrainians have certainly not greeted Russian troops as peacekeepers coming to save the country from an alleged repressive, genocidal government, as Putin claims. Rather, they view the Russian invaders as a ruthless, brutal enemy aimed at creating a Russian puppet state completely submissive to Russia, a colonized economy, and a citizenry stripped of all rights. They understandably hate and fear Putin.

There are limits to US/European assistance

Sanctions, yes

Jen Kirby and Jonathan Guyer (cited earlier)provide an overview of US-led sanctions.

“The US and its allies have only amped up the pressure since then. On February 25, the EU and US imposed sanctions on Putin himself. On February 26, the US and European countries announced an agreement to cut some (but not all) Russian banks off from SWIFT, the global messaging system that enables most international transactions, which will make it very difficult for Russia to make transactions beyond its borders. (Japan also signed on to SWIFT actions on February 27.) The US and its allies have said they will target Russia’s central bank, specifically its foreign reserves that Moscow needs to help support its currency. The US has continued to add penalties, including joining other countries in closing US airspace to Russian aircraft, and sanctioning more than a dozen oligarchs.

Yes to military assistance

Military assistance from the U.S. and Europe has been essential to the Ukrainian defense of their country. Travis Tritten considers how the arms flow is being managed (https://military.com/daily-news/2022/03/04/global-weapons-pipeline-ukraine-being-managed-us-european-command.html). Here is some of what he reports.

“The military’s U.S. European Command has become the organizer of a global coalition of nations sending weapons and security aid to Ukraine as it fends off Russia’s efforts to conquer the country.

“The command, based in Germany under Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, is coordinating shipments to the war zone from 14 countries.

“Ukrainians, who so far had managed an effective resistance to the Russians, are already well-trained on equipment such as anti-tank weapons and had been able to distribute the aid where needed on the front lines as of Friday, a senior U.S. defense official said.

“‘I think all of us have been tremendously impressed by how effectively the Ukrainian armed forces have been using the equipment that we’ve provided them,’ the defense official said. ‘And I think Kremlin watchers have also been surprised by this, at how they have slowed the Russian advance and performed extremely well on the battlefield.’

“The aid from the U.S. and others has included Javelin guided anti-tank missiles, which could put Russian armor in jeopardy, and reportedly Stinger air defense missiles to take out Russian piloted aircraft or drones. Countries have also been sending small arms, body armor, helmets and food rations.”

“The U.S. and NATO have bolstered forces along the alliance’s eastern European flank, including Poland, Romania and the Baltic states, but have made clear that they will not intervene militarily in the conflict.”

“President Joe Biden has approved more than $1 billion worth of security aid to be drawn from the U.S. military arsenal and sent to Ukraine over the past year. About 70% of the latest tranche of $350 million in aid was approved by Biden last week [early March] had already arrived in the country, and most of the remainder was expected to be delivered within the next week.”

“Last week, both Germany and Sweden announced they would join other nations in sending weapons to Ukraine. Berlin, which previously prohibited such aid, pledged 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger missiles, and Sweden said it would send 5,000 anti-tank weapons, along with other military aid, according to Reuters.”

Jeremy Scahill considers the “unprecedented weapons transfers to Ukraine” as having a double-edge impact, that is, in aiding the Ukrainian resistance but also in prolonging the war and attendant destruction and mayhem (https://theintercept.com/2022/03/10/ukraine-russia-nato-weapons). The sad reality is that, unless the Ukraine government surrenders, or until, if ever, there is a negotiated settlement, resistance is all there is. Still, Scahill’s points are worth considering.

He gives some background on US military assistance to Ukraine under the Biden administration before and since the current Russian invasion started.

“Even before Russia’s recent invasion, the Biden administration had begun a process of increasing lethal aid. In his first year in office, Biden approved more military aid to Ukraine — some $650 million — than the U.S. had ever provided.” The military aid was justified to help the Ukrainian military forces prepare for further Russian military advances into the country. According to the New York Times, cited by Scahill, “[o]ver the past year…the Biden administration has approved $1.2 billion in weapons for Ukraine.”

After Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Scahill writes, “the guardrails came off: an ‘unprecedented’ additional $350 million weapons package was pushed through. There is now wide bipartisan support in Washington for an immediate and aggressive $13.5 billion effort to ship American arms and other assistance, including humanitarian aid, to Ukraine. The package will also cover the cost of additional deployments of U.S. military assets and troops to the region.” The weaponry going to Ukraine includes “Javelin antitank missiles, rocket launchers, guns, and ammunition [which] have already made their way onto the battlefield. The shipment of weapons “also includes Stinger antiaircraft missiles from U.S. military stockpiles, mostly in Germany.”

According to Scahill, “More than a dozen other NATO countries and several non-NATO European nations have started or expanded their weapons shipments to Ukraine. In a significant move, Germany broke with its long-standing policy of not sending weapons to conflict zones. As part of its initial package, Berlin is moving some 1,500 rocket launchers and Stinger missiles and potentially additional Soviet-era shoulder-fired Strela missiles. The European Union has also broken its own resistance to providing lethal assistance and entered the arms market with a commitment of nearly half a billion dollars in weapons to Ukraine. EU treaties prohibit the use of budgetary money for weapons transfers, so the union tapped funds from its “off-budget” European Peace Facility. ‘For the first time ever, the EU will finance the purchase and delivery of weapons and other equipment to a country that is under attack,’ said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. ‘This is a watershed moment.’

NATO has also issued a warning to Russia, namely, “that any Russian attack against the supply lines facilitating the flow of weapons to Ukraine will trigger an invocation of Article 5 of the NATO charter [a declaration of war], thus raising the specter of military action against Russia. Moscow, which has already labeled the sweeping sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its allies a declaration of ‘economic war,’ has warned that nations sending weapons to Ukraine ‘will be responsible for any consequences of such actions.’”

Despite the large flow of weapons, Scahill points out, the weapons “will not be sufficient to defeat Russia militarily,” though it will enable Ukrainian forces to engage “in a protracted armed insurgency and war of attrition that may produce echoes of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.” If the latter, then Ukraine could be reduced to rubble.

Scahill quotes Russian expert Anatol Lieven on the consequences of a lengthy war of resistance, how it would demonstrate that Russia cannot dominate the entirety of Ukraine militarily, and never lead to stable Russian rule.

“‘For it is now obvious that any such pro-Russian authorities imposed by Moscow in Ukraine would lack all support and legitimacy, and could never maintain any kind of stable rule,’ Lieven wrote. ‘To keep them in place would require the permanent presence of Russian forces, permanent Russian casualties and permanent ferocious repression. In short, a Russian forever war.’ He argued, ‘The Ukrainians have in fact achieved what the Finns achieved by their heroic resistance against Soviet invasion. The Finns convinced Stalin that it would be far too difficult to impose a Communist government on Finland. The Ukrainians have convinced sensible members of the Russian establishment — and hopefully, Putin himself — that Russia cannot dominate the whole of Ukraine.”

No to US or NATO soldiers in the fight

Jen Kirby and Jonathan Guyer address this issue in one section of their long and informative article for Vox (https://vox.com/2022/2/23/22948534/russia-ukraine-war-putin-explosives-invasion-explained).

“The United States has said it will not involve troops in any Ukrainian conflict, though more US military aid to Ukraine is on its way and the US has shored up its presence on NATO’s eastern flank. On February 24, the Pentagon said it would send 7,000 additional troops to Germany, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on February 26 that he was authorizing ‘up to $350 million’ in additional military aid to Ukraine, including ‘further lethal defensive assistance to help Ukraine address the armored, airborne, and other threats it is now facing.’

Such aid, according to a February 26 tweet by State Department spokesperson Ned Price, will be provided ‘immediately’ and include ‘anti-tank and air defense capabilities.’ Other European and NATO countries are also stepping up their assistance, including Germany, which reversed a long-standing policy of not sending lethal aid to conflict zones.”

No to a “no fly zone”

Ukrainian President Zelensky has continuously called for it. Interviewed on Democracy Now, Joshua Yaffa, contributing writers for the New Yorker, is questioned about the issue of the no-fly zone (https://democracynow.org/2022/03/15/joshua_yaffe_russian_invasion_ukraine_curfew).

—————-

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, the increasing calls for a no-fly zone. And it’s clear why the West doesn’t want this. A direct confrontation could lead to a nuclear war. You have Zelensky about to address the U.S. Congress on Wednesday. Can you talk about this and the road you think needs to be taken right now?

JOSHUA YAFFA: Sure. What is really striking to me is how many ordinary people in Ukraine are talking about a no-fly zone. So many of my interviews, so many of my meetings across the country over these past weeks, knowing that I was American and work for an American magazine, this was the first thing that many people wanted to talk about. And it was just really fascinating the degree to which this idea has spread among the Ukrainian people. Not just people in the military but ordinary people I met, for example, at the grocery store, wanted to talk to me about a no-fly zone.

I think that’s a manifestation, among other things, of Zelensky himself mentioning this so often in his addresses and really creating the groundswell of momentum, both inside Ukraine and internationally, to try and push for this measure, which of course would have an effect. This is not just a symbolic measure, but, I think, a real one, given the fact that much of the violence Russia is perpetrating on Ukraine is coming from the air. Another question is how much is coming from — delivered by fighter jets and bombers versus missile strikes. It’s one thing to have a no-fly zone that would not permit airplanes to fly; another is to protect against missile and rocket attacks, which are a more difficult technical thing to block than bringing down aircraft.

But in talking about what a no-fly zone would entail, I think it’s important we remember the technical military details of what we’re talking about here. A no-fly zone is not a kind of magical spell you cast over the skies of Ukraine so planes can’t fly. It is the commitment to use military force to shoot down those planes. It is an act of war, essentially. And I think that it’s, therefore, understandable why the Biden administration is wary, if not refusing, to commit itself to essentially enter the war.

That is what installing a no-fly zone would mean, or at least that is what implementing a no-fly zone would entail. It would entail American military strikes against Russian military targets. That is effectively the United States entering the war. And I think that there are understandable reasons, first and foremost, as you mentioned, the desire to avoid a nuclear exchange….

—————-

How will it end?

The Russian onslaught may not end for some time. At present, it does not look as though there is a negotiated settlement in sight. Without a negotiated agreement to end the war, then the rain of horrific destruction and death on Ukraine will likely intensify.

One scenario

There is a chance that the sanctions and mounting Russian casualties from the war will at some point in coming weeks or months undermine Putin and his coterie’s legitimacy among members of Russia’s high-military command and, coupled with the economic effects of the sanctions, force Putin or his replacement into serious negotiations.

However, it is difficult to imagine that even then Russian negotiators would be willing to give up the two provinces in the Donbas and Crimea. And they would insist that the Ukraine remain “neutral,” that is, never become a member of NATO. And perhaps that would insist that Ukraine eliminate any military capacity (missile launchers) that could strike Russia and stop accepting military arms from the US and Europe. Such an agreement would seriously compromise the national independence and integrity of Ukraine but end the destruction and death.

In return, the Russian invaders would agree to withdraw from Ukraine and end the war. The terrible genocidal destruction would end. And they would also expect US-international sanctions to be reduced.

Future relations between Russia and the US and Europe would depend on whether NATO continued to build up the military forces of its eastern European members and continue to be viewed as a threat to Russia’s security.

The war crimes issue would probably not lead anywhere as long as Russia is a viable state.

Scenario Two

The Ukrainian resistance, the ongoing US/Europe military assistance, finding ways to counter the air and artillery attacks of Russia, the effects of increasing Russian military casualties, the effects of the sanctions on the Russian population, the links between families in Ukraine and Russia, all such development might lead to negotiations that favor Ukraine.

In this set of circumstances, Ukraine may be able to retain a state that is independent of Russian domination, though it is unlikely that the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces and Crimea would be returned to Ukraine. And Ukrainian authorities would have to agree not to join NATO. But the bloodshed would end, refugees would be able to return to their country, and, with the help of international assistance, the rebuilding of the devastated country would commence. Military assistance would give way to economic and humanitarian assistance.

Scenario Three

The negotiations lead nowhere, the war and its attendant destruction escalates,

the US/Europe give into public pressure about the rising carnage in Ukraine to support a “no-fly zone.” This is followed by military clashes involving Russian and American air force aircraft. If Russia is losing, it may use tactical nuclear weapons. And this will be the beginning of a nuclear war – and the end of civilization.

Concluding thoughts

This side of a direct military war involving the US/Europe and Russia, however the war in Ukraine unfolds, there is now the making of a new Cold War. In response to Putin’s vision of a creating a new Russian empire, the Biden administration has decided to send troops to NATO countries on or near Russia’s border. And there are now calls in the US Congress and from others to increase even more the already enormous military budget.  

The downside of such policies is that other pressing challenges in the US would be short-changed like “pandemics, climate change, and racial and economic injustice,” and, like the first Cold War, the US would likely become more involved in shoring up “friendly” regimes, democratic and autocratic, against presumed Russian – and Chinese – “threats.”

Perhaps, though, like a lightening flash from the sky, the US will have the luck, the political will, and the diplomatic ingenuity to find a way toward peace.

Do the escalating right-wing attacks on democracy portend an authoritarian or fascist political outcome for America?

Bob Sheak, February 26, 2022

bsheak983@gmail.com

Introduction

This post considers evidence on how extreme the Republican Party and their supporters, still under the influence of Trump, have gone in their efforts to subvert democracy and create the conditions for the party’s ascendance to a position of uncontested power. They have not yet succeeded in toppling democracy or establishing a one-party state, but they are moving in that direction. It is an authoritarian project, infused with rising fascist/Nazi tendencies. At the same time, there are major forces of resistance to them, which are identified in the last section of the post. American democracy has not been so threatened from within since perhaps the Civil War, though there have been far-right racist ideology and practice throughout the country’s history.

 A divided society and its affects on American democracy

There is much written about the fragility of American democracy, with titles such as How Democracies Die (published 2018), authored by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, both professors of government at Harvard University.  They capture the concern about the anti-democratic, radical right forces in the U.S. in the following paragraph.

“American politicians [on the Right] now treat their rivals as enemies, intimidate the free press, and threaten to reject the results of elections. They try to weaken the institutional buffers of our democracy, including the courts, intelligence services, and ethics offices. American states, which were once praised as ‘laboratories of democracy,’ are in danger of becoming laboratories of authoritarianism as those in power rewrite electoral rules, redraw constituencies, and even rescind voting rights. And, in 2016, for the first time in U.S. history, a man with no experience in public office, little observable commitment to constitutional rights, and clear authoritarian tendencies was elected president” (p. 2).

It’s now reasonable to suggest that American democracy is under greater attacks than since the Civil War in 1860-1865. Indeed, authors are writing books about how America is on the verge of a contemporary Civil War. See, for example, Barbara F. Walter’s book, How Civil Wars Start and How to Stop Them (published 2022), and Stephen Marche’s The Next Civil War (published 2022). Walter argues that Americans have too long trusted that “peace will always prevail” [and] “[t]hat our institutions are unshakable, that our nation is exceptional.” However, there are disruptive changes occurring.

“In the past decade, our country has undergone a seismic change in economic and cultural power. Our demographics have shifted. Inequality has grown. Our institutions have weakened, manipulated to serve the interests of some over others. American citizens are increasingly held captive to demagogues, on their screens or in the government.”

Amid these changes, “violent, extremist groups, especially on the radical right, have grown stronger. Since 2008, over 70 percent of extremist-related deaths in the United States have been at the hands of people connected to far-right or white-supremacists’ movements” (p. xix).

The partisan political and cultural divisions appear to be unresolvable. Trump, the Republican Party, their billionaire and corporate funders, supported by a Trump-loyal base of tens of millions, want to transform the institutional framework of society and basically rewrite or ignore the U.S. Constitution in ways that would end Democracy and many individual rights    

They are not only supported by avid Republican Party efforts in Washington but also at the state and local levels, where they hope to create an electoral system that guarantees them victory regardless of the popular vote. In these efforts, they have the support of a partisan Supreme Court and influential right-wing media.

What do they want?

The leaders of this broad reactionary movement want a free enterprise economic system in which corporations and businesses are little regulated, certainly the end of anti-trust laws, and have low taxes.

They want to privatize as many public functions as they can, including the public schools, National Parks, the minerals offshore in the ocean, the prisons, and wherever there are profitable opportunities. They want to further limit government assistance to the poor. They support the interests of pro-gun advocates, of those who want to abolish the legal right to abortion, of evangelicals who want to make their version of Christianity the national religion. Insofar as there are public schools, they want to ban books they find objectionable, eliminate any teaching of the country’s racist history, and move as quickly as they can to replace public schools with for-profit charter schools and vouchers that give parents the option to homeschooling or, if available, sending their children to a charter school.

Diane Ravich has compiled extensive evidence that charter schools, vouchers and other alternatives to public schools rarely succeed in raising test scores, graduation rates, and they tend not to accept disabled students or students who have a poor education record. (Her book: Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Public Schools.) Unfortunately, the opposition to public schools has had major detrimental effects. Ravich lists them, referring to disrupters, or active opponents of public schools, as “it.”

“It has diminished the status of the teaching profession. It has created national teacher shortages. It has discouraged creative and thoughtful teaching. It has undermined the transmission of knowledge and skill in history, science, literature, foreign languages, and the arts. It has reduced time for physical education, recess, and play and given it to testing and test preparations. It has demoralized students and teachers alike. It has crushed the spirit of learning. It has failed to produce the miracles and benefits that it promised” (p. 11).

International network of right-wing “leaders”

There is also an international dimension to the right-wing assaults on democracy. Journalist Sarah Kendzior writes:

“Trump is part of a complex illicit network including individuals from Russia, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the United Kingdom, and more – some of whom do not have loyalty to any particular country. Their loyalty is to themselves and their money” (Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America, p. 8). CNN’s Chris Cillizza and Brenna Williams report that by July 19, Trump as praised authoritarian leaders 15 times, including Kin Jong Un (North Korea), Recep Tayyip Erdogon (Turkey), Xi Jinping (China), and Vladimir Putin (Russia) (https://cnnn-com/2019/07/02/politics/donald-trump-dictators-kim-yong-un-vladimir-putin/index.html).

Also see John Feffer’s new book, The Right Across the World: The Global Networking of the Far-Right and the Left Response. In addition to the far-right leaders already referred to, Feffer identifies as authoritarian leaders Rodrigo Duterte (Phillipines), Narendra Modi (India), Victor Orban (Hungary), Jair Bolsonaro (Brazil). Beyond the leaders, there are right-wing political parties, still minority parties, in most European countries.

Authoritarian, fascist, Nazi ambitions

The right-wing amalgam in the U.S. includes authoritarians, fascists and Nazis (or neo- or proto-Nazis), as well as moderates who often become the silent enablers by going along with their more extreme colleagues.

Most mainstream and liberal/leftist newscasters and commentators use the term authoritarian but avoid the terms fascism and Nazism as going to far and outside the realm of rational discourse.

My argument is that they are wrong. The threat of the multifaceted anti-democratic right-wing is growing and has been and continues to be involved in projects aimed at creating a virtual one-party, Christian, white-privileged state and institutional structure, with a “strongman” like Trump as the autocratic leader. (See Ruth Ben-Ghiat’s book, Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present (published 2020).

Under these circumstances, strong terminology is needed to educate and warn citizens of the threat, with the hope that we become informed citizens and will engage in activities that countering the right-wing.   

Authoritarian

A political party and/or movement can be described as authoritarian in the making if there is, as in the United States, a dominating right-wing leader (Trump), a powerful and incipiently dominant right wing political party (the Republican Party), support from many rich and powerful interests (rich and corporate backers), along with wide ranging popular support (Trump’s huge base). At the same time, there would be room in such in authoritarian system for other but marginalized political parties. This can be referred to as a “minimization” strategy, that is, aimed at minimizing the influence of opponents.

Fascism

In a fascist state, there would be the exalted leader, his/her political party, and an institutional apparatus that is designed to eliminate other parties, repress political dissent, and stigmatize, discriminate, and punish those defined as “enemies” (e.g. liberals, leftists, people of color, LBGTQ persons). This is an eliminationist strategy, which when successful creates a one-party state.

Nazism

History Articles says that fascism and Nazism are virtually the same, except that  Nazism differs from Fascism by its acceptance of the need for racial “purity” and for its anti-Semitism (https://heeve.com/modern-history/difference-between-fascism-and-nazism.html). Here’s some of what they point out at History Articles.

“Fascism and Nazism, the two extreme right-wing political ideologies that emerged during the World Wars in Italy and Germany, respectively, had a lot in common. Both were influenced by the rise of nationalism, fear from communism, crisis of the capitalist economic system and dissatisfaction with the outcome of World War I. Both ideologies were also marked by the cult of the leader, use of violence and rejection of both democracy and communism although both borrowed several elements from the Russian communism including the cell system and strict hierarchy….

“There were several important differences between Fascism and Nazism, and rejection of the concept of race and anti-Semitism is what differentiated the fascist ideology from Nazism the most.” 

Paxton’s conception of “fascism”

Robert O. Paxton is an American political scientist and historian specializing in Vichy France, fascism, and Europe during the World War II era. He is Mellon Professor Emeritus of Social Science in the Department of History at Columbia University. In his renown 2004 book, The Anatomy of Fascism, Paxton defines fascism in the following terms.

“Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and be compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethnical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion” (p. 218).

According to Paxton, fascism is a process that is expressed through stages, that is, it is a political project and movement that develops over time, not in one grand political swoop. He identifies five stages: (1) the creation of movements; (2) their rooting in the political system; (3) their seizure of power; (4) the exercise of power; (5) and, finally, the long duration, during which the fascist regime chooses either radicalization or entropy.” He continues: “Though each stage is a prerequisite for the next, nothing requires a fascist movement to complete all of them, or even move in only one direction” (p. 23).

What fascist stage is Trump, the Republicans, and their supporters?

Jason Stanley, the Jacob Urowsky Professor of Philosophy at Yale University, makes the case that “America is now in fascism’s legal phase, or what Paxton refers to as “stage 2” (https://theguardian.com/world/2021/dec/22/america-fascism-legal-phase). There are movements on the Right that want to destroy democracy and there is a political party, the Republican Party or the dominating segment of the Party, that has long held significant power in the political system and is pushing for a far-right, anti-democratic agenda

The Republicans reached the third stage of power temporarily during the years of Trump’s presidency. However, after the 2020 elections, the Republicans are now the minority party in the federal government, though in the U.S. Senate, where there are 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats, Republicans can stop Democrat-initiated legislation by employing the filibuster and portray Biden and the Democratic Party has been ineffective.

The filibuster

According to the Senate’s cloture rule, 60 members are required to end debate on most legislation, by-pass the filibuster, and move to a vote. There are alternatives to this rule, one called “reconciliation,” but even then it would require 51 votes to get around the filibuster rule. The Democrats only have 50 Senators, plus the vice-president’s vote under certain circumstances. But at least two Democratic senators are opposed to going around any Republican filibuster. So, Democrats have neither the 60 votes to invoke cloture and end a filibuster or the 50 votes to invoke a rule that only requires a majority vote. As it stands, the U.S. Congress is gridlocked because of Republican obstruction, supported by two Democrats. Republicans hope that by obstructing the Democratic agenda they can de-legitimize the Democrats and increase their chances of winning elections.

Republicans have a political advantage in the states

At the state level as of February 11,2022, Republicans have an advantage. according to Ballotpedia, as “Republicans controlled 54.4% of all state legislative seats nationally, while Democrats held 44.3%. Republicans held a majority in 62 chambers, and Democrats held the majority in 36 chambers. One chamber (Alaska House) was organized under a multipartisan, power-sharing coalition” (https://ballotpedia.org/State_legislative_elections,_2022). This is troubling because of the continuing influence of Trump and because right-wing legislation can be advanced and passed into law.

More on what the fascist Republican are doing to undermine democracy

Jason Stanley writes:

“The contemporary American fascist movement [embodied in the Republican Party or parts of it] is led by oligarchical interests for whom the public good is an impediment, such as those in the hydrocarbon business, as well as a social, political, and religious movements… As in all fascist movements, these forces have found a popular leader unconstrained by the rules of democracy, this time in the figure of Donald Trump.”

The fascist rhetoric and actions occur in a context of historical and institutional racism, a “police militarized to address the wounds of racial inequities by violence, and a recent history of unsuccessful imperial wars have made us susceptible to a narrative of national humiliation by enemies both internal and external.”

Trump has helped to galvanize right-wing forces and shape them “into a cult, with him as leader.” Stanley continues: “We are now well into the repercussions of this latter process – where fascist lies, for example, the “big lie” that the 2020 election was stolen, have begun to restructure institutions, notably electoral infrastructure and law. As this process unfolds, slowly and deliberately, the media’s normalization of these processes…” That means if a far-right party is to become viable in a democracy, it must present a face it can defend as moderate, and cultivate an ambiguous relationship to the extreme views and statements of its most explicit members.”

They cultivate violence

Stanley suggests this: “In the face of the attack on the US capital on 6 January, even the most resolute skeptic must admit that Republican politicians have been at least attempting to cultivate a mass of violent vigilantes to support their causes. In the context of Black-led protests, the right has been able to call for law and order, stronger police reactions, and spread rampant disinformation.”  

Stanley refers to an article by Rachel Kleinfeld, who “documents the rise of the legitimation of political violence in the US. According to the article, the “bedrock idea uniting right-wing communities who condone violence is that white Christian men in the United States are under cultural and demographic threat and require defending – and that it is the Republican Party and Donald Trump, in particular, who will safeguard their way of life.” Such conditions provide an opportunity to justify political violence, involving “a dominant group threatened by the prospect of gender, racial and religious equality turning to a leader who promises a violent response.”

A partisan Supreme Court

The judiciary is part of the Trump/Republican agenda to undermine democracy. Here’s what Stanley writes.

“The Roberts court has for more than a decade consistently enabled an attack on democracy, by hollowing out the Voting Rights Act over time, unleashing unlimited corporate money into elections, and allowing clearly partisan gerrymanders of elections. There is every reason to believe that the court will allow even the semblance of democracy to crumble, as long as laws are passed by gerrymandered Republican statehouses that make anti-democratic practices, including stealing elections, legal.”

The Republican embrace of Trumpian fascism is complete

Bill Blum is a former administrative law judge and death penalty defense attorney, his articles have appeared in a wide variety of publications, ranging from The Nation and The Progressive to the Los Angeles Times, the L.A. Weekly and Los Angeles Magazine. Blum finds the evidence compelling that Republicans have embraced Trumpian fascism, that the Biden coalition is fraying, and that in the 2022 and 2024 elections “the GOP and Trump have another opportunity to impose their will and vision, deal a death blow to what remains of our diminished democracy,” and, meanwhile, “the takeover is accelerating” (https://commondreams.org/views/2022/02/12/republican-embrace-trumpian-fascism-complete-and-now-must-be-defeated).

Blum refers to Trump’s latest “Save America Rally,” held in Montgomery County, Texas, on Jan. 29. There, “the former president went beyond his usual tirades about the ‘big lie’ of the stolen election and Mike Pence’s cowardice, ranting that he would consider pardoning the Capitol insurrectionists if he is reelected in 2024. ‘If I run and I win, we will treat those people from Jan. 6 fairly,’ he declared. ‘And if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons, because they are being treated so unfairly.” Blum points to one of the implications of Trump’s statements on the prospect of pardons, that is, they are “endorsement of political violence and the promotion of alternative realities, both hallmarks of classic and, now Trumpian, fascism.”

“At his Texas rally,” Blum reports, “Trump also called on his supporters to stage massive demonstrations if he winds up getting indicted or sued as a result of investigations led by the Justice Department, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin BraggNew York Attorney General Letitia James, and Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney Fani Willis. Without mentioning James, Bragg or Willis—all of whom are Black—by name, Trump vowed, ‘If these radical, vicious, racist prosecutors do anything wrong or corrupt, we are going to have the biggest protests we have ever had.’”

“Following Trump’s remarks, Willis sent a letter to the FBI, asking for a ‘risk assessment’ of the courthouse and government center where she works, and for security assistance.

“The Republican National Committee, on the other hand, responded to Trump’s speech with abject genuflection. On February 4, the RNC voted to censure Representatives Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois for serving on the House select committee investigating the insurrection. In its formal censure resolution, the RNC condemned the pair for ‘joining in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens who engaged in legitimate political discourse.’ [The RNC later attempted to clarify that the resolution applied only to non-violent protesters.]

Blum continues: “There are countless other examples of the GOP’s fascist transformation. To cite just a few, there was the party’s decision to pledge loyalty to Trump rather than adopt a new platform for the 2020 elections. There were the ‘coup memos’ written by attorneys associated with the Trump campaign. There were the fake Electoral College certifications prepared by party operatives in several swing states. All occurred amid a constant drumbeat of white grievance and nationalism broadcast by Fox News and other right-wing media outlets.”

Blum refers to Robert Paxton’s “five stages of fascism.” He argues that America is now in the early phase of stage 3, in which Republicans are well into the process of acquiring power.” He writes: “The election of Joe Biden offered only a temporary reprieve.”

Are most Trump Republicans fascist?

Rich Barlow addresses this question in an interview with Jonathan Zatlin, a College of Arts & Sciences associate professor of history at Boston University who teaches a course in Comparative European Fascism. Barlow is a senior writer at BU Today and Bostonia magazine. Barlow’s article was published on Feb. 11, 2022 (https://bu.edu/2022/are-trump-republicans-fascists?).

Barlow asked Zatlin whether the Republican Party can be described as either fascist or fascist-leaning. Zatlin emphasizes that the conditions in pre-WWII Germany that gave rise to Hitler and the Nazis do not apply to the situation today in the United States. Germany had experienced a defeat in that war, in which millions were killed or traumatized, the economy was in shambles, there was soaring inflation, many soldiers, among others, found it difficult to find paid work, there was rampant poverty, and bureaucrats in government did not value democracy.

At the same time, as already considered, Trump and the Republican Party have engaged enough in fascist (or Nazi) practices to indicate they are in stage two of a process that, if successful, will culminate in either a fascist or authoritarian state and political system. While not using these terms, Zatlin following description reflects their meaning.

“…there’s no question that they’re violent antidemocrats who are also violently racist. And the Republican Party is in danger of becoming the party of violence, antidemocracy, and racism. If there is any kind of similarity with the interwar period [in Germany], it’s that you have conservatives willing to collaborate for political reasons with people who are often violent and racist and antidemocratic.”

Moreover,

“…the last president did try—and it seems Republican parties locally as well as on the state level are trying—to put public officials into office who don’t have democracy as a value, who believe violence is a legitimate part of public discourse, which it obviously isn’t. It’s a form of politics that is deeply disturbing, because it means the Republican Party has allied itself with antidemocratic values, violence, and racism.”

Zatlin says there are lessons to be learned about how not to repeat Germany’s Nazi period.

“You don’t make compromises with them. You have to call these things out. It’s important to call conspiracy theories out and debunk them. It’s a difficult thing to do, but all these things need to be called out. You cannot make alliances with people like this, because these ideas are so corrosive. [They] will swallow you whole. You cannot make idiotic statements like violence is part of democratic discourse.” 

The elections in 2022 and 2024 will determine for perhaps generations whether American democracy continues or not

Only history, perhaps the next elections in 2022 and 2024, will help identify whether the right-wing politicians can win elections on the basis of their anti-democratic agendas.

Thom Hartman sees evidence that fascism will be on the ballot in the mid-term elections of 2022 and that it, along with the 2024 elections, poses the biggest battle ever for the survival of American democracy. These two elections “will almost certainly determine what form of government we’ll have for at least a generation” and whether America will “become freer and more democratic [or] devolve into a 21st century form of Trumpy fascism?”

(https://commondreams.org/views/2022/01/03/make-no-mistake-fascism-is-on-ballot-2022).

There is little doubt that Trump aspires to be an autocrat in a right-wing, one-party state and that has enormous, though still minority, support, with an electoral base in the tens of millions.

What America would become in 2025 Under Trump

Columnist Thomas B. Edsall considers what some experts think about “what America would look like in 2025 under Trump,” and in the event that “the Republican Party wins the White House in 2024 and the House and Senate along the way?” (https://nytimes.com/2022/02/02/opinion/trump-republicans-2025.html).

Edsall refers, as one important example, to how Trump “is an Orban worshiper — that’s Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary. On Jan. 3, Trump announced his support for “Orban’s re-election,” declaring: “He is a strong leader and respected by all. He has my Complete support and Endorsement for re-election as Prime Minister!”

Orban had become a darling on the American right

Among others, Edsall quotes from an article in Foreign Affairs by Alexander Cooley and Daniel H. Nexon, political scientists at Barnard and Georgetown. They argue that Orban has “emerged as a media darling of the American right,” receiving high praise from Tucker Carlson, “arguably the single most influential conservative media personality in the United States.”

The two authors summarize Orban’s anti-democratic record: “Orban consolidated power through tactics that were procedurally legal but, in substance, undercut the rule of law. He stacked the courts with partisans and pressured, captured or shut down independent media.” The prime minister has an “open assault on academic freedom — including banning gender studies and evicting the Central European University from Hungary. Cooley and Nexon find that these actions are analogous to “current right-wing efforts in Republican-controlled states to ban the teaching of critical race theory and target liberal and left-wing academics.”

They continue. Trump and Orban “are both opportunists who’ve figured out the political usefulness of reactionary populism. And Trump will push the United States in a broadly similar direction: toward neopatrimonial governance. During his first term, Trump treated the presidency as his own personal property — something that was his to use to punish enemies, reward loyalists and enhance his family’s wealth. If he wins in 2024, we’re likely to see this on steroids.”

Edsall cites an additional statement from Cooley on Orban’s appeal to the right flank of the Republican Party, that is, to his “ideology — which rests on redefining the meaning of ‘the West” away from liberal principles and toward ethnonational ideals and conservative values — and his strategy for consolidating power is to close or take over media, stack the courts, divide and stigmatize the opposition, reject commitments to constraining liberal ideals and institutions and publicly target the most vulnerable groups in society.”  

Cécile Alduy, a professor at Stanford who studies French politics and the far right, responded to Edsall in an email:

“If in 2024 Trump or a Ron DeSantis wins the presidency and Republicans control both the House and Senate, the general agenda would be a backlash against any anti-discrimination, against inclusive policies implemented by the Biden administration, for an attempt to shift further the Supreme Court pendulum toward anti-abortion, for originalist constitutionalists, for implementing voter suppression policies and for federal funding limitations on some forms of speech (critical race theory, the teaching or research of segregation, antisemitism or racism in the States) as well for as a return to extremely restrictive anti-immigration policies (rebuilding the wall, for curbing down further visa and green cards and for increasing deportations).”

On Dec. 15, DeSantis proposed the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (WOKE) Act, which would give parents the right to sue school systems if they believe their children are being taught “critical race theory,” with a provision granting parents the right to collect attorneys’ fees if they win.

“The enactment of laws encouraging citizens to become private enforcers of anti-liberal policies has become increasingly popular in Republican-controlled states. Glenn Youngkin, the newly elected governor of Virginia, created a tip line that parents can use to report teachers whose classes cover “inherently divisive concepts, including critical race theory.”

Alduy also refers to “a parallel strategy focused on abortion,” and gives the following examples.

“Texas Republicans enacted the Texas Heartbeat Act in May, legislation that not only bans abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected but also turns private citizens into enforcers of the law by giving them the power to sue abortion providers and any person who knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion, including paying for or reimbursing the costs of an abortion through insurance or otherwise, if the abortion is performed or induced in violation of this subchapter, regardless of whether the person knew or should have known that the abortion would be performed or induced in violation of this subchapter.

“Winners of such suits would receive a minimum of $10,000 plus court costs and other fees.

“The use of citizens as informants to enforce intrusions of this sort is, to put it mildly, inconsistent with democratic norms — reminiscent of East Germany, where the Stasi made use of an estimated 189,000 citizen informers.”

It is not a cake walk for the Trumpian Republicans and their supporters. The majority of voters support the Democratic Party, want to preserve and strengthen the public schools, want restrictions on gun rights, want to preserve multiculturalism, want to continue the separation of state and religion, want to end institutional racism, want to advance gender equality, want to raise taxes on the rich and powerful, want to protect Social Security and expand Medicare, and want a efficient infrastructure.

The resistance to the fascist/Nazi right-wing

Indeed, in the 2020 presidential election, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris received over 81 million votes, the highest in American history.

Pew Research identifies some of the policy preferences of “the Democratic coalition” (https://pewresearch.org/politics/2021/11/09/the-democratic-coalition). Here are the key general findings.

“…the groups that form the Democratic coalition are largely united in support for a robust role of government and a strong economic and social safety net, as well as in their skepticism about corporate power. However, there are notable differences across the coalition around views of U.S. military might and – to some extent – views related to criminal justice and immigration.

“And in several key issue areas – including environmental policy, gun policy, abortion, racial equality and other topics – differences across the coalition are less about the issue itself than in the intensity of support for liberal positions and policies.

“This is also the case when it comes to some aspects of economic policy. Despite sharing the beliefs that economic inequality is a problem in the country, that the economic system favors powerful interests and that government should play a role in addressing inequities, the Democratic-oriented groups differ both in their views about the magnitude of the problems and in their level of support for proposed solutions.

“In several other domains, divides seen in past typologies across the Democratic-oriented groups – particularly over social issues – are now areas where there is generally more agreement among Democrats than in the GOP coalition.”

The Biden administration was successful in significant ways during the first year.

In an article for Newsweek, Inigo Alexander identifies Biden’s 7 biggest achievements (https://newsweek.com/joe-biden-biggest-achievements-first-year-president-1670763).

1) The U.S. Congress passed $1.2 trillion infrastructure package,” despite opposition from most Republicans. It was passed by the Senate in August, 2021, and by the House in November. It “drastically increased investment in the national network of bridges and roads, airports, public transport, national broadband internet, as well as waterways and energy systems.

2) The $1.9 trillion COVID relief deal. “In March, the Biden administration passed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package designed to help the country combat the ongoing COVID pandemic.” The package included provisions for “direct payments of up to $1,400 to many struggling U.S. citizens, temporarily extended unemployment support by $300 per week, channeled approximately $20 billion into the COVID vaccination program, as well as providing $25 billion in rental support and a further $350 billion into state, tribal and local relief efforts.” There were also provisions to address child poverty and nutritional issues, as well as “almost $30 billion in restaurants and hospitality and raised the maximum Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program support by 15 percent,” and “an extra $120 billion were invested into K-12 schools across the nation.”

3) The highest appointment of federal judges since Reagan. Biden “appointed 41 federal judges in his opening year at the White House. This is more than double those appointed by his predecessor Donald Trump and is the most a president has appointed in their freshman year since Ronald Reagan in 1981,” 80 percent of whom are women and 53 percent people of color.

The president has also been mindful of issues of representation in his appointments over the last year, as 80 percent of the new federal judges are women and 53 percent are people of color.

4) Halt on Federal Executions. “President Biden is an opponent of the federal penalty and therefore reinstated a national freeze on federal executions, which had been in place for 17 years until former president Donald Trump ended the pause.” In July, 2021, the Biden administration restored “the pre-Trump status quo and imposed a suspension on federal executions while the Department of Justice assesses the existing procedures and policies.”

5) Commitment to Combating Climate Change. Biden and most Democrats are supporters of “the need for a “greater effort to tackle the climate crisis.” Biden’s administration did some good things. Biden had the U.S. re-join the international Paris Climate Accord. In November, Biden “joined an agreement aimed at reversing deforestation as well as presenting a 100-country strong pledge to reduce greenhouse emissions by at least 30 percent by 2030.” And in December, “Biden ordered all government agencies to immediately halt the financing of new international carbon-intensive fossil fuel projects, and instead work towards clean energy use.”

6) Support for Transgender Service Members. In his first week as president, “Biden issued an executive order to overturn Trump-era ban on openly transgender members of the U.S. military,” a ban originally ordered by Trump during his first year in power.”

7) Reduced unemployment. By the end of his first year in the White House, “Biden has managed to reduce the rate of national unemployment from 6.3 percent when he took office to 3.9 percent in December.

2022 has been a rough year for Biden, his administration, and congressional Democrats. They have been unable to muster the votes to overcome Republican filibusters in the U.S. Senate against two voting rights’ bills and the Build Back Better bill. In addition, inflation has become a problem, which Republicans blame on too much Democratic spending. The advice of health experts to deal with the ongoing pandemic, get vaccinated, social distance, wear masks, along with mandates that closed businesses and schools, has ended up fueling the anger of many in Trump’s base.

Amid the political turmoil, many analysts believe that Republicans have a good chance of winning the 2022 mid-term elections and taking back control of the House of Representatives and perhaps even the Senate. If this should occur, it would be the result of Republican efforts to gerrymander congressional districts in the states in their favor, to suppress the votes of opponents, and to rig the administration of how votes are counted. It would not be the result of the support of the majority of Americans.

In the states

In the states, Diane Ravitch documents the resistance of pro-public-school parents and organizations against charter schools, vouchers and anything that would divert public funds away from the public schools. See Ravitch’s expertly documented book, Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Public Schools.

And David Pepper’s recommendations in his book, Laboratories of Autocracy: A Wake-Up Call From Behind the Lines, are informative and offer ideas on how to reclaim democracy at the national, state, and individual levels. On the latter, he writes:

“Share the truth as much as you can. Make sure your networks know what’s really happening, and how they can help. Educate yourself and “keep sending letters to the editors of local papers.” At election time, vote as early as you can and “spend the rest of the election helping make sure other voters vote too. You can do that by helping a candidate, a party, or other organizations who get the vote out.”

Thom Hartmann quotes John Hennen, professor emeritus of history at Kentucky’s Morehead State University, who says, “We must build a democratic resistance that amounts to a counter-fascist coup…” And: “Every American who cares about freedom, self-governance, and the ideal of democracy must now rise to the occasion. The upcoming elections will be political wars with stakes unlike those seen by any living citizens.” “Professor Hennen’s colleague, Brian Clardy, a Murray State University history professor emeritus tells us straight up: ‘The Democrats have to remind people that next year and in 2024, democracy itself will be on trial.’”

Concluding thoughts

The growing attacks from the Right on the country’s political system may yet be unsuccessful. It will take a major effort by the democratic opposition to avoid such an outcome.

Meanwhile, the country is severely divided. Tens of millions of people unquestioningly follow Trump, despite his torrent of lies, his greed, his aspiration to be an autocratic president, his ties to white supremacists and other extremist groups, and his admiration for far-right leaders and organizations around the world.  

The country is also saddled with extraordinary debt, an economic system that generates gross inequalities, millions of armed Trump followers waiting for the word from their leader to take action, accelerating climate crises, environmental degradation, and more. To top it off, Trump again expressed admiration for Putin’s “savvy” in invading the Ukraine and threatening to invade other Eastern European countries, disregarding Putin’s vague threats to use nuclear weapons if he doesn’t get his way. Almost immediately, his views were viewed online by millions of his supporters. New York Times journalists Davey Alba and Stuart A. Thompson report that pro-Putin sentiment spread online, following Trump’s praise of Putin (https://nytimes.com/2022/02/25/technology/russia-supporters.html)

They write: “The day before Russia invaded Ukraine, former President Donald J. Trump called the wartime strategy of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia ‘pretty smart.’ His remarks were posted on YouTube, Twitter and the messaging app Telegram, where they were viewed more than 1.3 million times.”

There have never been such challenges. One of the greatest challenges presently is internally driven.

Escalating right-wing attacks on public education: economic, political, and racist implications

Bob Sheak, February 13, 2022

bsheak983@gmail.com

Introduction

Public education has been under attack for decades. The attacks are now accelerating. They are rooted in a neoliberal economic policy, long-standing systemic or structural racism, and the stoked fears of many white people about their relative status and the content of education. They interlock. They are yet another assault from the Right on democracy, along with moves to eliminate legal abortion, limit voting and subvert elections, reject the advice of health experts,  deregulate gun laws, and virtually eliminate immigration from South America, the Middle East, and Africa.

There is no doubt that the public education system is already marked by great difficulties. Investigative journalist Laura Meckler states the problem confronting public education as one of “epic proportions” (https://washingtonpost.com/education/2022/01/30/public-education-crisis-enrollment-violence). She identifies the problems as reflecting an anti-public school, racist-infused bias in American government and a long-history of racial discrimination and segregation. She writes:

“For public schools, the numbers are all going in the wrong direction. Enrollment is down. Absenteeism is up. There aren’t enough teachers, substitutes or bus drivers. Each phase of the pandemic brings new logistics to manage, and Republicans are planning political campaigns this year aimed squarely at failings of public schools.”

In this post, I’ll focus on identifying (1) who generally are represented in the anti-public-school movement; (2) the meaning of structural racism, and (3) current examples of the strategies and tactics utilized by the anti-public-school movement to undermine public education.

#1 – The opposition to public education

Powerful economic forces

Profits first in a “free market”

The interests of many corporations, shareholders, the rich, are opposed to policies that funnel taxpayer money into programs aimed at benefitting the public. They support privatization of public functions whenever there is a potential profit to be made. For example – and the focus of this post – they look for and support policies and programs that open up opportunities to divert funding away from public education to alternative profit-making educational ventures in the private sector.

Nancy MacLean, William H. Chafe Distinguished Professor of History and Public Policy, Duke University, delves into the economic roots of the school choice or school privatization movement, which is at the heart of the opposition to public education. She presents the highlights from a longer article she wrote that appeared in the Institute for New Economic Thinking, Sept 27, 2021

MacLean traces the roots of the choice and privatization movements back to neoliberal and libertarian ideas in the mid-1950s and the broad defiance in the white South against the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision (https://ineteconomics.org/perspectives/blog/how-milton-friedman-aided-and-abetted-segregationists-in-his-quest-to-privatize-public-education).

The opposition “aimed to block the choice of equal, integrated education for Black families.” Famed right-wing economist Milton Friedman, who in the latter 1950s was “soon to become the best-known neoliberal economist in the world, abetted the push for private schooling that states in the U.S. South used to evade the reach of the ruling, which only applied to public schools.” The opposition also included “other libertarians” such as, “Friedrich Hayek, Murray Rothbard, Robert Lefevre, Isabel Patterson, Felix Morley, Henry Regnery, trustees of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), and the William Volker Fund, which helped underwrite the American wing of the Mont Pelerin Society, the nerve center of neoliberalism.”

According to MacLean, “Friedman and his allies saw in the backlash to the desegregation decree an opportunity they could leverage to advance their goal of privatizing government services and resources. Whatever their personal beliefs about race and racism, they helped Jim Crow survive in America by providing ostensibly race-neutral arguments for tax subsidies to the private schools sought by white supremacists.”

Author Diane Ravitch documents the involvements of rich and powerful people in her articles and books, including in her just published book titled Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Schools. She refers to the big money groups as “disrupters,” including many billionaires, who “are masters of chaos, which they inflict on other peoples’ children, without a twinge of remorse.” They represent a powerful movement of the higher circles “to privatize America’s public schools, to break teachers’ unions, to tear apart communities, and to attack teacher professionalism” (pp. 5-6).

Specifically, there are a host of corporations, shareholders, the rich, and the think-tanks, big banks, hedge funds, private equity firms, foundations, their lobbyists, faux grassroots groups, the right-wing media that support policies aimed at the privatization of public schools through vouchers and charter schools, that give parents “choices” beyond the public schools, and funnel money into the hands of private investors.

They justify such positions by claiming that it gives parents the freedom to chose what schools to send their children, assuming falsely that there are typically viable educational alternatives outside of the public schools. Ravitch writes that “none of their promises and claims” have come true (p. 5). That is, overall, charter schools and other educational options to public schools have failed to improve educational outcomes. For example, “In Ohio, the state spends $1 billion each year on charter schools, which collectively have a dismal academic record. In 2017, Ohio’s charters have a graduation rate of 45 percent, half of the rate in the state’s traditional public schools and 28 percentage points behind the state’s urban districts. Two thirds of Ohio’s charter schools were given grades of D or F by the state in 2018” (p. 136).

In an article published in The New Republic on February 25, 2021, Ravitch writes “those ‘intent on eliminating public schools ‘built donor networks, cultivated political alliances, and churned out ready-made legislation”

(https://newrepublic.com/article/161481/bipartisan-assault-public-schools-betsy-devos-education).

She continues: “A key element in this network-building was the enlistment of billionaires who were enamored of free-market solutions and who opened their wallets to persuade national and state elected officials to inject competition and private-sector solutions into the public education system.” 

In her commentary on a book by Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire, A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: The Dismantling of Public Education and the Future of School (2020), Ravitch writes on how free-market ideologues “have kept up a steady stream of ‘reforms’ whose intent is to advance their assault on the schools.”

She continues: “They have demanded cost-cutting and pointed out that the biggest expense in education is teachers’ salaries. Through right-wing think tanks and organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council, funded by right-wing billionaires like Betsy DeVos and Charles Koch, they have attacked teachers’ unions, professional colleges of education, and the teaching profession. They favor groups like Teach for America that recruit recent [inexperienced] college graduates who promise to stay in the classroom for two years. ALEC is the favorite tool of the free-marketeers. It counts some 2,000 state legislators among its members and invites them to posh destinations, where they get copies of model legislation to introduce in their states on behalf of vouchers, charter schools, and lower standards for teachers.”

“The attack on the legitimacy of public schools seems to be coming from many directions, but the reality is that the same small group of far-right billionaires is in the wings, calling the shots.”

They blame bad choices rather than social structure or systems

They promote the false notion that failed or under-performing schools are caused by lazy and incompetent teachers, poorly designed curricula, and unruly students. They pay no attention to the actual situations of teachers or students, and refuse to acknowledge that many public schools are under-resourced, reflecting the effects of historical and structural inequalities, with some managing to do well anyway.

King’s message is ignored

There is no place for the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr. in this narrative. Lesley Henton interviews Texas A&M’s the Ella C. McFadden Professor in Sociology and Distinguished Professor Joe Feagin on this topic. Feagin reminds us that King often discussed how racial equality cannot be achieved without structural change (https://today.tamu.edu/2022/01/15/what-martin-luther-king-jr-said-about-systemic-racism). Feagin puts it this way: “Martin Luther King Jr. often spoke about institutional and systemic racism, saying that true racial equality cannot be reached without ‘radical’ structural changes in society.” He quotes from King’s essay, “A Testament of Hope,” which was included the his1958 book Stride Toward Freedom.”(The topic of structural racism will be taken up later in this post.)

The grassroots critics

So, some tens of millions of the public end up believing that failing schools are, in Social Darwinist terms, the result of the bad decisions by some parents and students and/or the irresponsible life styles and values rather than of larger political and economic forces. Throw in the wild attacks on so-called “incompetent” teachers and teachers’ unions as serving to round out their antipathy and actions against public education. (See the article by Alyssa Bowen and her colleagues on how “dark money” funds many parent groups that oppose critical race theory at: https://truthout.org/articles/many-parent-groups-opposing-masks-and-crt-are-actually-driven-by-dark-monty, and the article by Jasmine Banks who

reports on August 31, 2021 for The Nation on the role of billionaires Charles Koch and his now deceased brother David Koch in the attacks on public education

(https://thenation.com/article/politics/charles-koch-crt-backlash).

But there are also other reasons for why so many whites support and now engage in attacks on the public schools.

The great replacement theory

Many have demographically-connected concerns that soon whites will become a minority in the United States, actually by about 2045, and this development will result in the loss of their privileged standing in the society. From this angle, the attacks on public education convey a long-existent racist animus that goes back to the founding of the country. (There are many books documenting this reality. One excellent source is the edited book by Nicole Hannah-Jones, Caitlin Roper, Ilena Silverman, and Jake Silverstein, titled “A New Origin Story: The 1619 Project,” published in 2021.)

Boosting identities in the culture wars

There are also political motives. The attack on public education is part of right-wing efforts to reinvigorate the cultural wars, making public education a political wedge issue that shores up support among mostly whites for the Republican Party, for Trump, for state and local right-wing officials.

This is, in part, accomplished by identifying teachers and schools for punishment that use books or discuss topics that have anything to do with the history of racial oppression in the U.S. – or with sexuality or non-traditional gender roles. So, they are mounting efforts to control school boards, ban topics and books they find offensive, and offer parents and anyone else financial rewards for turning in teachers and school librarians who violate such dubious state laws. (Author and columnist Thomas B. Edsall asks experts about how “Republicans Are Once Again Heating Up the Culture Wars, https://nytimes.com/2021/11/10/opinion/republicans-democrats-crt.html.)

The Religious Right

The religious right also is part of the movement attacking public schools and public education. They want the government to divert “education” money to parochial schools, religiously-oriented charter schools, vouchers that can be used by parents for their children to attend such schools, or for parents to home school their children.

Author Anthea Butler documents how white evangelicals have advanced racist policies going back to pre-Civil War days. The title of her 2021 book, White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America. These efforts violate the constitutional requirement that the state and religion remain separate. The implication is that citizens should be free to choose what they believe about religious and theological questions, and the state should support public, not religiously-oriented, education. (On the separation of church and state, see https://www.mtsu.edu/first-amendment/article/885/establishment-clause-separation-of-church-and-state.)

The efforts of the multifaceted movement attacking public education have served to undermine the viability of large segments of public education.

—————————–

#2 – The meaning of structural racism, one of the central propositions of CRT

In an article for the New England Journal of Medicine, Zinzi D. Bailey, Sc.D., M.S.P.H., Justin M. Feldman, Sc.D., and Mary T. Bassett, M.D., M.P.H. examine how “structural racism” works and consider specifically the health inequities that structural racism produces (https://nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMms2025396).

They point out that there is no “official” definition of structural racism, or of the “closely related concepts of systemic and institutional racism – although multiple definitions have been offered.” At the same time, all definitions “make clear that racism is not simply the result of private prejudices held by individuals,8 but is also produced and reproduced by laws, rules, and practices, sanctioned and even implemented by various levels of government, and embedded in the economic system as well as in cultural and societal norms.3,8 Confronting racism, therefore, requires not only changing individual attitudes, but also, more importantly, transforming and dismantling the policies and institutions that undergird the U.S. racial hierarchy.”

The authors identify, as examples, “three interrelated domains” that are a “legacy of African enslavement and subsequent racial policies, systems, and discrimination, namely: “redlining and racialized residential segregation, mass incarceration and police violence, and unequal medical care.” These domains “share certain cardinal features: harms are historically grounded, involve multiple institutions, and rely on racist cultural tropes.” Bailey and her colleagues review evidence on each of the three “domains.” This is precisely the kind of evidence that the Right wants expunged from public education.

For example, in their examination of “redlining and racialized residential segregation, the authors write:

“Redlining required the cooperation of government; the banking, credit, and real estate industries and private developers; as well as homeowners. Together, these parties helped stoke cultural beliefs that Blacks made bad neighbors whose presence would lower real-estate values and increase crime. Bailey and her colleagues go back to the 1930’s to identify the origin of government-approved racial housing segregation. Here is part of what they write about it.

“The 1933 Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), a program introduced early in the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration “to expand homeownership as a part of recovery from the Great Depression.”8 The program facilitated the continuation of residential segregation by creating maps of at least 239 U.S. cities and “literally drew red lines (hence “redlining”) around communities with large Black populations, flagging them as hazardous investment areas whose residents would not receive HOLC loans. Redlining made mortgages less accessible, rendering prospective Black homebuyers vulnerable to predatory terms, thereby increasing lender profits, reducing access to home ownership, and depriving these communities of an asset that is central to intergenerational wealth transfer. Federal mortgages were declined regardless of home loan officers’ racial views; it was not personal.”

The authors emphasize that connection between residential racial segregation and health outcomes, which “remains a powerful predictor of Black disadvantage.3,5,9 

There is a direct legacy of redlining in health and well-being — preterm birth, cancer, tuberculosis, maternal depression, and other mental health issues occur at higher rates among residents of once-redlined areas.3-5 Plausible mechanisms for the continued health impact of redlining deserve further study, taking into account exposure to environmental toxins (teratogens, carcinogens, air pollutants, etc.) and the sustained physical impact of concentrated psychosocial stressors.5,9-11 Better HOLC neighborhood grades are associated with lower levels of airborne carcinogens and higher levels of tree-canopy coverage (which mitigates air pollutants and heat).12 Predominantly White neighborhoods generally have lower air-pollution levels,13 while higher exposures contribute to asthma and low-birth-weight outcomes in Black communities.14

——————-

#3 – Example of the strategies and tactics to undermine public education

The attacks come mainly from Republicans, including elected officials, appointees to state election-related positions, candidates running for office at all levels of government, at boards of election, and from parents’ groups. Trump’s influence is also apparent. And dark money fuels a lot of it.

Most of these efforts, including the furious and growing opposition to CRT, are aimed at whittling away at the viability and independence of public education. However, there is currently a GOP bill in Alabama that calls for a transformative change in the way education is funded.  

A proposal for the wholesale reduction in financial support for public education

Kenny Stancil reports on a pending Alabama bill that would, if passed, “decapitate public education (https://commondreams.org/news/2022/02/03/critics-say-gop-bill-alabama-would-decapitate-public-education).

Progressive critics are warning that Alabama Republican Sen. Del Marsh’s so-called ‘Parents’ Choice Act’ [S.B. 140], which advanced out of committee on Wednesday, would ‘end state support of public education.’” The bill has now advanced from the Senate Education Policy Committee on February 3 to the full state Senate.

The core component of the bill creates an Education Savings Account (ESA), which “in its fully realized form” gives every child about $6,300 a year which their parent or parents can use “to pay for educational whatever—public school, home school, private school, tutoring, online classes, whatever.” The passage of the Parents’ Choice Act “would siphon off at least $420 million from the state’s Education Trust Fund to pay for the ESAs” – each year, rising with inflation.

Retired teacher Peter Greene posted on his Curmudgucation blog the legislation would throw to the wayside “the egalitarian ideals that have animated public education…in favor of a libertarian fantasy destined to exacerbate inequality.”

The “first ESAs would be available at the start of the 2022-23 school year. It would allow any students who are currently enrolled in public school or in a home school to sign up for an ESA. Applications would be made available May 1 according to the bill.” In 2023-24 the eligible student pool grows to include “students in private schools whose family income does not exceed 200% of the federal poverty level.”  Then in 2024-25, all students become eligible.

Alabama Education Association (AEA) executive director Amy Marlowe called the bill a “mind-blowing” effort to ram through a bill that would transfer public resources to private hands before ‘every line… is properly reviewed and scrutinized.’” She went on to say in a statement shared with the Alabama Political Reporter the following.

“There is a complete lack of transparency regarding this egregious bill by rushing it through committee this week… A bill of this magnitude that would result in more than $420 million cut from the Education Trust Fund rushed through committee without the opportunity for at least a week of scrutiny by the public and the media makes you wonder why Sen. Marsh is in such a hurry to move this bill. By moving this legislation so soon, it does not give time for education leaders and the community to provide their input.”

There is fear that the legislation, if eventually passed, would exacerbate inequality and turn over educational decisions to often uninformed parents. Green is quoted by Stancil, who stresses that the bill would end the state’s involvement with and support of its children.” Here are some of Greene’s concerns.

“We’ve given you a check, and we hereby wash our hands of the whole education thing.” The ultimate form of voucher is not about empowering parents. It’s not even about making vendors a bunch of money. It’s about getting the state out of the education business, about cutting parents and children loose. It’s about ending the collective commitment to and responsibility for educating the next generations.

“Don’t [dismantle education] with this notion of helping people when in fact, it will absolutely decapitate public education.”

As far as the legislation is written, there will be no state oversight or safeguards on how the money is to be spent. There are no supports for families that don’t have the time or resources to search for the right venders or to assure parents about the reliability of vendors. There are other concerns. “What if a parent’s money runs out? What if parents find their choices severely limited because the various edu-vendors won’t accept their child? What if one of their vendors closes shop mid-year, leaving the child stranded? What if the vendor turns out to be a big scam because the state hasn’t properly vetted the eligible vendors? What happens if parents find that the Marketplace is not for them, but in the meantime the local public school has collapsed from the money gutted from it?” 

AEA’s Marlowe argues that “instead of this venture to divert funding from public education, Sen. Marsh’s focus should be on the growing number of educator shortages within Alabama schools and the need for substantial pay raises for current educators who are already going beyond their normal call of duty.”

————————–

Aggressive chipping away to undermine the integrity and independence of public education

ONE – banning critical race theory

Jacy Fortin presents a brief history of critical race theory in an article on November 8, 2021, for the New York Times (https://nytimes.com/article/what-is-critical-race-theory). The theory was developed during the 1980s but it has only recently become a “hot-button political issue.” Before 2021, most Americans had never heard the phrase. But now the term is making news everywhere, despite how little substantively is known about it. 

“It makes national and international headlines and is a target for talking heads. Culture wars over critical race theory have turned school boards into battlegrounds, and in higher education, the term has been tangled up in tenure battles. Dozens of United States [Republican] senators have branded it ‘activist indoctrination.’”

Why is the uproar occurring now? Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, a law professor at the U.C.L.A. School of Law and Columbia Law School, is the person credited with coining the term. Her answer to this question is that some Republicans have made it controversial by claiming it represents “a subversive set of ideas” by a “well-resourced, highly mobilized coalition of forces.” She points out that “critical race theorists say they are mainly concerned with institutions and systems,” while critics interpret it as casting “racism as a personal characteristic, involving [only] people who practice overt discrimination.”

Fortin also quotes Mari Matsuda, a law professor at the University of Hawaii who was an early developer of critical race theory. Matsuda said, “The problem is not bad people. “The problem is a system that reproduces bad outcomes. It is both humane and inclusive to say, ‘We have done things that have hurt all of us, and we need to find a way out.’”

Critical race theorists acknowledge “the stark racial disparities that have persisted

in the United States despite decades of civil rights reforms, and they raise structural questions about how racist hierarchies are enforced, even among people with good intentions.”

As Professor Crenshaw puts it, “C.R.T. is more a verb than a noun.”

“‘It is a way of seeing, attending to, accounting for, tracing and analyzing the ways that race is produced,’ she said, ‘the ways that racial inequality is facilitated, and the ways that our history has created these inequalities that now can be almost effortlessly reproduced unless we attend to the existence of these inequalities.”

Why is this coming up now?

“Last year, after protests over the police killing of George Floyd prompted new conversations about structural racism in the United States, President Donald J. Trump issued a memo to federal agencies that warned against critical race theory, labeling it as ‘divisive,’ followed by an executive order barring any training [in government agencies] that suggested the United States was fundamentally racist.”

Trump’s concern with C.R.T. “seemed to have originated with an interview he saw on Fox News, when Christopher F. Rufo, a conservative scholar now at the Manhattan Institute, [who] told Tucker Carlson about the ‘cult indoctrination’ of critical race theory.” Use of the term and the controversy around it then skyrocketed.

“The Biden administration rescinded Mr. Trump’s order, but by then it had already been made into a wedge issue. Republican-dominated state legislatures have tried to implement similar bans with support from conservative groups, many of whom have chosen public schools as a battleground.”

“According to Professor Crenshaw, opponents of C.R.T. are using a decades-old tactic: insisting that acknowledging racism is itself racist.”

“‘The rhetoric allows for racial equity laws, demands and movements to be framed as aggression and discrimination against white people,’ she said. That, she added, is at odds with what critical race theorists have been saying for four decades.”

In the current debate, the critics of C.R.T. argue that the “theory” accuses all white Americans of being racist and is being used to divide the country. But, as already noted, critical race theorists say they are mainly concerned with understanding the racial disparities that have persisted in institutions and systems.

The debate has turned school boards into battlegrounds as some Republicans say the theory is invading classrooms. Education leaders counter, including the National School Boards Association, say that C.R.T. is not being taught in K-12 schools. However, if it is not, it should be.

Evidence on the poorly informed opposition to CRT

Sociologist Rashawn Ray delves into the question of why states are banning critical race theory (https://brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2021/07/02/why-are-states-banning-critical-race-theory). He open an article with this fact: “Fox News has mentioned “critical race theory” 1,300 times in less than four months [during the spring of 2021].

He offers his view on what accounts for this upswing, arguing that “critical race theory (CRT) has become a new bogeyman for people unwilling to acknowledge our country’s racist history and how it impacts the present.” Some of the opposition to CRT is based on the unfounded “fear that CRT admonishes all white people for being oppressors while classifying all Black people as hopelessly oppressed victims.” It is such fears that “have spurred school boards and state legislatures from Tennessee to Idaho to ban teachings about racism in classrooms.” But, contrary to this “fear,” “CRT does not attribute racism to white people as individuals or even to entire groups of people.”

Ray continues.

“Simply put, critical race theory states that U.S. social institutions (e.g., the criminal justice system, education system, labor market, housing market, and healthcare system) are laced with racism embedded in laws, regulations, rules, and procedures that lead to differential outcomes by race. Sociologists and other scholars have long noted that racism can exist without racists.” And: “Scholars and activists who discuss CRT are not arguing that white people living now are to blame for what people did in the past. They are saying that white people living now have a moral responsibility to do something about how racism still impacts all of our lives today.”

Nonetheless, Ray points out, “many Americans are not able to separate their individual identity as an American from the social institutions that govern us—these people perceive themselves as the system. Consequently, they interpret calling social institutions racist as calling them racist personally. It speaks to how normative racial ideology is to American identity that some people just cannot separate the two. There are also people who may recognize America’s racist past but have bought into the false narrative that the U.S. is now an equitable democracy. They are simply unwilling to remove the blind spot obscuring the fact that America is still not great for everyone.”

Ray did an assessment of anti-CRT state legislation to “better understand how widespread these efforts are to ban critical race theory from U.S. classrooms. Here’s some of what they found. (He includes an appendix that provides detailed information.)

“Nine states (Idaho, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Arizona, and North Dakota) have passed legislation. Arizona’s legislation was overturned in November by the Arizona Supreme Court.

None of the state bills that have passed even actually mention the words “critical race theory” explicitly, with the exception of Idaho and North Dakota.

“The legislations mostly ban the discussion, training, and/or orientation that the U.S. is inherently racist as well as any discussions about conscious and unconscious bias, privilege, discrimination, and oppression. These parameters also extend beyond race to include gender lectures and discussions.

“State actors in Montana and South Dakota have denounced teaching concepts associated with CRT. The state school boards in Florida, Georgia, Utah, and Alabama introduced new guidelines barring CRT-related discussions. Local school boards in Georgia, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Virginia also criticized CRT.

“Nearly 20 additional states have introduced or plan to introduce similar legislation.”

The implications are foreboding.

“Laws forbidding any teacher or lesson from mentioning race/racism, and even gender/sexism, would put a chilling effect on what educators are willing to discuss in the classroom and provide cover for those who are not comfortable hearing or telling the truth about the history and state of race relations in the United States.”

Ray concludes: “Ultimately, we cannot employ colorblind ideology in a society that is far from colorblind. Everyone sees it, whether they acknowledge it consciously or not. As I [Ray] wrote in a previous Brookings article on whether the U.S. is a racist country, systemic racism can explain racial disparities in police killings, COVID-19, and the devaluing of homes in Black neighborhoods. If we love America, we should want it to be the best it can be. Rather than run from the issue of racism in America, we should confront it head on. Our kids and country will be better for it.”

——————–

The backlash against C.R.T. may show that Republicans are losing ground

Columnist Jamelle Bouie adds to the coverage of the attacks on “critical race theory” and also refers to evidence that Republicans are losing ground in the controversy in an article published in the  New York Times on Feb 4, 2022 (https://nytimes.com/2022/01/04/opinion/crt-backlash-du-bois.html).

Bouie refers to the evidence of such attacks from an analysis by Education Week, which evidenced how, since January 2021, “Republican lawmakers in 37 states have introduced dozens of bills to restrict teaching on the subject of race and racism under the guise of opposition to ‘critical race theory.’” He continues: “In 14 states, restrictions have either passed into law or been imposed through either executive action or on the authority of a state education commission. One such law, passed in Texas, prohibits teaching that ‘slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to the authentic founding principles of the United States, which include liberty and equality.’”

The evidence of this “frenzy,” which includes state lawmakers, is that “any attempt to teach an accurate history of racism in the United States is placed under hostile scrutiny. Educators accused of indoctrinating students with ‘critical race theory’ have reported threats and physical harassment, and some schools — in Alabama, for example — are now defending their Black History Month programs from similar accusations of subversion.”

Bouie’s major point, though, is positive. He thinks that the “urgency” with which the anti-CRT groups are acting is “an admission, however tacit, that something has changed, and conservatives are on the losing end of that transformation. Where once they were an establishment…now they are on the defensive.” He adds:

“Put simply, the people and institutions behind the bans on critical race theory’ are fighting a rear-guard action, and they know it.”

We’ll have a better idea of whether Bouie’s analysis is correct when we have the results of the 2022 and 2024 elections.

——————–

Two – Banning “divisive” topics from being discussed in the public-school classroom and banning what right-wingers view as objectionable books.

Sarah Schwartz and Eesha Pendharkar compile a growing list of the topics that Republican officials and activists want banned from the classroom. They published their evidence on Education Weekly on February 2, 2022 (https://edweek.org/policy-politics/heres-the-long-list-of-topics-republicans-want-banned-from-the-classroom/2022/02).

The bans began accelerating in early 2021, “as a conservative effort to prohibit teachers from talking about diversity and inequality in so-called ‘divisive’ ways or taking sides on ‘controversial’ issues has now expanded to include proposed restrictions on teaching that the United States is a racist country, that certain economic or political systems are racist, or that multiple gender identities exist.” The documentation of these right-wing efforts is based on “an Education Week analysis of 61 new bills and other state-level actions.”

They continue: “At least 10 state have proposed bills that would require administrators to list every book, reading, and activity that teachers use in their lessons, a process that educators argue would be cumbersome and expensive. Some of these bills also require districts to give parents prior right of review for new curriculum adoptions or library additions.” Moreover, “These laws and orders, combined with local actions to restrict certain types of instruction, now impact more than one out of every three children in the country, according to a recent study from UCLA.”

Many of the bills “propose withholding funding from school districts that don’t comply with these regulations.” Some, though, would go further and allow parents to sue individual educators who provide banned material to students, potentially collecting thousands of dollars.

In interviews with Education Week, state representatives said these new bills are designed to prevent teachers from telling children what to think, encouraging them to see divisions, or asking them to adopt perspectives that are different from those of their parents on issues like policing, Black Lives Matter, gender identity, and human sexuality.”

Schwartz and Pendharkar report further that “[i]n some cases, these bills would allow parents to challenge school districts and individual educators directly in court and collect damages.” For example, “A bill in Oklahoma would require individual educators to personally pay up to $10,000 in damages if parents find them to be teaching ‘critical race theory.’”

A proposed bill in Missouri, would allow parents to “collect up to $5,000 from a school district per violation, if the district doesn’t provide lists of all materials used and honor parents’ requests to review materials or opt out their children.”

Heather Fleming, the founder of the Missouri Equity Education Partnership, “worries that this bill and others like it could have a chilling effect on teachers if signed into law. The proposed legislation suggests that teachers are spreading messages in public schools that families should object to.” It also gives preference to the views of white parents over others. Fleming, who is black, continues: “They’re packaging some of these laws as ‘parents’ bill of rights.’ What parents? Because my daughter is entitled to see her culture and her heroes, people who look like her, in the curriculum, too.’”

Schwartz and Pendharkar report that many schools already have procedures that give parents information about what is being taught and what books are in the library.  “Most school libraries also have a procedure in place for parents who want certain materials reconsidered, she said. The ALA recommends that libraries put such a policy in place, she added, and provides a toolkit that can help them craft one.”

Regarding in-class reading, “teachers usually share the outlines of a course, but they’re less likely to post a list of every worksheet a student might do or every in-class reading they might assign, said Marc Turner, the president-elect of the South Carolina Council for the Social Studies, and a high school teacher. But, he added, there’s a reason why this isn’t common practice.

“Most teachers aren’t just using a textbook, [but] instead pulling from a lot of different sources to craft their lessons. And these plans often change day to day and week to week, especially during the pandemic when school schedules are so often disrupted.”

The downside: “A requirement that teachers post all of the materials they use could encourage district leaders to standardize teachers’ lessons out of caution, potentially sacrificing the opportunities for critical thinking that students gain when they can compare the perspective of multiple sources, Turner said.”

Such restrictions also ignore “the professional training and judgment of librarians and educators, who have detailed protocols for selecting resources,” and give any parent the right to make decisions for school libraries that serve entire, diverse communities,” and not only the biased or uninformed grievances of some parents, some of whom may be motivated only by the potential “reward” money.

In an article published in The New York Times, journalists Elizabeth A. Harris and Alexandra Alter also report on how book ban efforts related to racial and gender issues are spreading across the U.S. (https://nytimes.com/2022/01/30/books-ban-us-school.html). They cite evidence from a preliminary report last fall by the American Library Association: “it had received an ‘unprecedented’ 330 reports of book challenges, each of which can include multiple books.” Harris and Alter quote Suzanne Nossel, the chief executive of the free-speech organization PEN America, “It’s a pretty startling phenomenon here in the United States to see book bans back in style, to see efforts to press criminal charges against school librarians.”

Book issues “have long been a staple of school board meetings,” they write, “but it isn’t just their frequency that has changed, according to educators, librarians and free-speech advocates — it is also the tactics behind them and the venues where they play out.” Now, “Conservative groups in particular, fueled by social media, are…pushing the challenges into statehouses, law enforcement and political races.”

The issue has been politicized, according to “Britten Follett, the chief executive of content at Follett School Solutions, one of the country’s largest providers of books to K-12 schools. He told Harris and Alter, “It’s being driven by legislation, it’s being driven by politicians aligning with one side or the other.

As the book- and topic-banning movement gains momentum, the end result is that the librarian, teacher or educator is under additional, often unfounded and arbitrary pressure, conversation and learning in the classroom is severely limited, and the right-wing is given another issue on which to challenge – and undermine – a critically important societal institution. On the latter point, Harris and Alter give examples of political leaders on the right who have seized on the controversies over books. For example, “The newly elected governor of Virginia, Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, rallied his supporters by framing book bans as an issue of parental control.”

Despite the book and topic banning efforts of the Right, no criminal charges against librarians and educators have succeeded in court, “as law enforcement officials in Florida, Wyoming and elsewhere have found no basis for criminal investigations. And courts have generally [so far] taken the position that libraries should not remove books from circulation.”

When all is said and done, however, “the threat of having to defend against charges is enough to get many educators to censor themselves by not stocking the books to begin with. Even just the public spectacle of an accusation can be enough.”

On the site Find Law, Richard Dahl considers what the law has to say about the rise in book banning efforts (https://findlaw.com/legalblogs/law-and-life/book-banning-efforts-are-on-the-rise-what-does-the-law-say). The article was published on January 6, 2022. He writes: “What began as a debate last year over the teaching of ‘critical race theory’ expanded to include a broader examination of school curricula and the library books available to students.” Dahl gives some examples.

“In Texas, Republican state Rep. Matt Krause asked state school districts to report whether they have any of 850 books that he compiled on a list, including the number of copies, where they are located, and how much the school district paid for them. He also asked that the school districts go further and identify any other books on their shelves that contain ‘material that might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex or convey that a student, by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.’”

———————

Three – Rewarding parents or others for identifying teachers who teach lessons contradicting a student’s religion or anything else

The assault by lawmakers on teachers keeps on expanding their attacks, as reported by Chris Walker for Truthout on February 3, 2022 (https://truthout.org/articles/lawmaker-wants-teachers-punished-for-lessons-contradicting-students-religion). Walker refers to how Oklahoma Sen. Rob Standridge (R) is proposing a new bill, Senate Bill 1470, “that could levy fines on teachers whose lessons promote positions that are in opposition to a student’s religious beliefs.” Walker goes on.

“The bill would allow parents and guardians of students in Oklahoma’s public schools to file complaints against teachers whose lessons are ‘in opposition to closely held religious beliefs of students.’ Because the language of the legislation is incredibly vague, it essentially allows parents to file complaints if they disagree with a lesson’s content for any reason.”

The bill would give teachers and schools the chance to respond to parental complaints, but if a teacher chooses not to adjust the curriculum according to the complaint, they could be fined $10,000 for every objectionable lesson they teach. And the fines are to be paid out of the teacher’s “personal resources. “If that teacher receives outside help to pay the fine — say, from a crowdfunding campaign, or from a family member or friend — it would violate the terms of the statute, resulting in the teacher automatically being fired from their position. The teacher would also be barred from teaching in the state for the next five years.”

Walker refers to how author and journalist Hemant Mehta responds to the Oklahoma bill.

“A biology teacher who explains evolution could be ratted out by a Creationist who’s failing science class. A health teacher who educates students about different forms of birth control won’t be in that classroom for very long if an abstinence-promoting teenager is on the roster. A history teacher who correctly describes the Founding Fathers as a mix of religious and non-religious individuals could be a target of conservative evangelicals.”

Under a previous bill introduced by Standridge in late 2021, public school libraries in Oklahoma would be banned from carrying any books that a parent might complain about and “schools would be fined $10,000 per day if they failed to act after a complaint was made. The school librarian would also be fired and prohibited from working in a public-school setting for the next two years.”

Concluding thoughts

Right-wing forces in government, politics, and the higher circles of big business, want to weaken all aspects of public education and support policies that would reduce or divert public education funds away from public education to private educational ventures. For example, author Derek W. Black, the Ernest F. Hollings Chair of Constitutional Law at the University of South Carolina, writes this about the money being spent in his 2020 book titled School House Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy.

“The amount of money they [opponents/critics of public education] are pumping into political campaigns and lobbying efforts to ‘fundamentally transform’ American education is unheard of – hundreds of millions of dollars from the Koch brothers’ political network alone. From governors’ races and statewide referenda to school board races and local policies, they have made decreased public education funding and increasing charters and vouchers their top issues” (p. 19)

The Republican Party is significantly dependent on Trump’s mass following, so Trump and his base have significant, if not determinative, influence on the Party and the policy stands they advance.

Many parts of the Base are anxious about the potential lose of relative status as the demographics of the country favor the growth of non-white people. They have also become a force against public education, as they aggressively agitate for parental rights over teacher’s professional training and experience, including the elimination of classroom discussions of any disturbing aspects of “race” and “gender” topics, as well as the parental rights to decide which books are suitable to have in school libraries or classrooms.

It’s not all grim. Consider two points.

First, the concern that we should strive to have good public schools goes back the founders of the country. Derek W. Black’s research finds that public education was embedded in the ideal image of the nation our founders hoped to create. “Before the United States had a constitution, our founders believed the nation needed a public education system” (p. 54). Why?

“From the first days, the nation’s theory of governance depended on educated citizens. The founders feared that democracy without education would devolve into mob rule, open doors to unscrupulous politicians, and encourage hucksters to take advantage of citizens even as they stood in line to vote” (p. 12).

John Adams served as the nation’s first vice president and second president. But as early as 1765, he had “begun making the case for public education and tying it to independence – a decade prior to the Declaration of Independence” (p. 55). Adams also wrote: “The preservation of the means of knowledge among the lowest ranks, is of more importance to the public than all the property of the rich men in the country” (p. 55).

This idea of the desirability of public education is deeply rooted in the U.S. history and culture. Black recounts the subsequent history of public education’s ups and downs through his book. We are now in a decidedly downward phase that may or may not be stoppable.

Second, there is “resistance” against the attacks on public education and for a viable, equitable, and equal public school system. Education expert Diane Ravitch (cited earlier) identifies who makes up the resistance and what its’ central ideas and goals are in her book, Slaying Goliath: Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Schools.

She answers the question of who belongs to the resistance as follows.

“Members of the Resistance have some genuine connection to education as teachers, administrators, students, parents or grandparents of students, graduates of public schools, scholars, religious leaders who believe in the separation of church and state, citizens who recognize that public schools are an essential foundation stone of a democracy society” (p. 52).

There are also teachers who are willing to join unions, strike for better salaries and working conditions. Legal scholar and teacher Derek W. Black gives an example in his book, School House Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy, of the rising militancy of some teachers. Here’s a bit of what Black writes.

“In the spring of 2018, teachers across the nation wages a full-scale revolt, shutting down public schools and marching to state capitals in the reddest of red states. From West Virginia and Kentucky to Oklahoma and Arizona, teachers went on strike over the condition of public education. Stagnant and depressed teacher salaries were the initial focal point, but as the protests spread, it became clear that teachers were marching for far more than their own salaries. They were marching for school supplies, school services, class sizes, and more. They were marching for states to reverse the massive budget cuts of the past decade and stop funneling more resources into charters and vouchers. Families and students were right beside them, both in body and spirit. Deep in the heart of red country, three out of four voters said they saw quality gaps between schools, and wanted states to close them, Nationally, only 6 percent said teachers’ salaries are too high, and 73 percent said they would support their teachers if they went on strike” (pp. 23-24)

Their central ideas

Ravitch refers to “several central ideas of the resistance. First, it opposes the privatization of schools. Second, it opposes the misuse and overuse of standardized testing. Third, it respects the teaching profession and believes that teachers and other school staff should have appropriate professional compensation. Fourth, it wants public schools to have the resources for the children they enroll. Fifth, it wants public schools to cultivate the job of learning and teaching. Sixth, it places the needs of children and the value of knowledge above the whims and theories of politicians and philanthropists. Last, it understands that students’ lives are influenced by conditions outside the control of the schools, including their access to good housing, medical care, nutrition, and safe neighborhoods” (p. 52).

In closing, let us be grateful for those who work in the public schools to educate our children and to provide other important services.

The Trump-Republican assaults on voting: authoritarian implications

Bob Sheak, January 28, 2022

bsheak983@gmail.com

Introduction

The U.S. election system is now under an unprecedented and growing threat from right-wing forces associated with Trump, the Republican Party, and their supporters. If these forces continue to be successful in these fiendish efforts, America will lose its democracy and be replaced by an autocratic-led authoritarian political system, with fascist elements. This ominous view is shared by many on the liberal/left. Here are a few examples.

—————-

Thom Hartmann, prolific author and host of a nationally syndicated radio show, writes: “Today in the United States there is a concerted and well-organized campaign to prevent people from voting while making it more and more convenient for others.” He quotes Thomas Paine: “The right to voting for representatives is the primary right by which other rights are protected. Take away that right is to reduce a man to slavery” (The Hidden History of the War on Voting: Who Stole Your Vote and How to Get It Back on page, p. 2).

Author and New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall refers to what he is learning from experts on the American political situation: “Political analysts, scholars and close observers of government are explicitly raising the possibility that the polarized American electoral system has come to the point at which a return to traditional democratic norms will be extremely difficult, if not impossible” (https://nytimes.com/2021/12/15/opinion/republicans-democracy-minority-rule.html).

Robert Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center, writes:

“A belligerent and narcissistic authoritarian has gained a powerful hold over a large portion of America. As many as 60 percent of Republican voters continue to believe his lies. Many remain intensely loyal. The Republican party is close to becoming a cult whose central animating idea is that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.” Reich adds: “Trump has had help, of course. Fox News hosts and Facebook groups have promoted and amplified his ravings for their own purposes. Republicans in Congress and in the states have played along” (https://robertreich.org/post/672010546164449280).

Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor Emeritus at MIT and currently Laureate Professor at the University of Arizona, addresses the threat to democracy in an interview released on Truthout (https://truthout.org/articles/noam-chomsky-gops-soft-coup-is-still-underway-one-year-after-capitol-assault). In the interview with C.J. Polychroniou, Chomsky refers to the growing fragility of American democracy.

“Implications for the future are all too clear. The Republican organization — it’s hard to regard them any longer as an authentic political party — is now carefully laying the groundwork for success next time, whatever the electoral outcome may be. It’s all completely in the open, not only not concealed but in fact heralded with pride by its leaders. And regularly reported, so that no one who is interested enough to pay attention to the American political scene can miss it.”

—————-

I have written posts in the past that call attention to the right-wing agenda of the Republican Party, how it is devoted to winning elections by any means and, in the meantime, obstructing Democratic legislative initiatives. Trump is the head of the Party. His power is rooted in his electoral base and his pro-corporate, pro-wealthy economic policies. You can see my posts at “vitalissues-bobsheak.”

The purposes of this post

This post attempts to update the evidence, focusing on voting, and how Trump, the Republican Party, and Trump’s huge and loyal electoral base represent an ever-increasing and dire threat to U.S. democracy.

Regarding Trump, there are numerous books and investigative articles documenting the checkered political and financial career of the former president, his thousands of lies and connections to Fox News and other right-wing media, how he and his family profited from his presidency, his continuous problems with the I.R.S, his hollowing out and corruption of executive branch agencies, his refusal to concede that he lost the 2020 presidential election, his ability to stoke the flames of his obedient electoral base, including his encouragements of violence, and his autocratic aspirations.

At the federal level, Republicans intensify partisanship with the goal of obstructing Democratic legislative initiatives. Their ultimate goal appears to be to create a virtual one-party political system based on minority rule and an agenda that satisfies the economic interests of the rich and powerful, pays attention to Trump’s obsessions, while playing to the cultural/social interests of Trump’s huge and multifaceted electoral base.

Recently, and of particular relevance to this post, Republicans in the Senate and two rogue Democrats were able to stop the passage of two voting rights bills. The bills, the content of which I’ll later summarize, were championed by Democrats as strengthening voter rights, while the Republicans in the Senate claimed that the bills would promote fraud and take away the authority of states to determine who should vote and how votes should be counted. In effect, Democrats want to expand opportunities for Americans to vote, while Republicans want to reduce them. At this point, Republicans are winning.

In the states and local jurisdictions, particularly in the 26 “red” states, Republicans and their supporters are increasingly involved in voter suppression, gerrymandering, the harassment and replacement of election officials, and creating the conditions where a popular vote can be overridden by a state legislature.

Evidence of the advances of the Republican anti-democratic movement

One– Trump, the undisputed leader

All levels of the Republican Party accept or remain obediently discreet about Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him by what Trump has called a “rigged” election. Trump’s dominance is rooted in the loyalty of his base and Trump’s ability to raise tens of millions of dollars from the base and from his corporate and wealthy backers.

In polls, Trump leads the Republican pack

Max Greenwood reports on January 24, 2022, on a recent poll dealing with how Trump fairs in the Republican field with respect to 2024 presidential choices (https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/591115-poll-trump-leads-2024-republican-field-with-desantis-in-distant-second). Here is the key finding. In a hypothetical eight-person GOP presidential primary, Trump holds a clear edge, garnering 57 percent support among Republican voters. DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence are nearly deadlocked at 12 percent and 11 percent, respectively. No other would-be candidate tested in the poll registers double-digit support.”

Trump continues to propound the widely debunked “Big Lie, as he did at a recent rally in Arizona

In an article for the New York Times, Linda Qiu reports that during a rally in Arizona on Saturday, January 15, “former President Donald J. Trump repeated his lie that the 2020 election was stolen and made other false claims about the pandemic and the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6 last year” (https://nytimes.com/2022/01/16/us/politics/fact-check-trump-arizona-rally.html).

In statements relevant to the 2020 presidential election, Trump falsely said at the rally,

“So we lost, they say, by 10,000 and yet they flagged more than — listen to these numbers — 57,000 highly suspicious ballots for further investigation, one. 23,344 mail-in ballots were counted despite the person no longer living at that address — little, little problem. Five thousand people appear to have voted in more than one county.”

Qiu also refers to some of the evidence refuting Trump”s claim. The official and repeated investigative findings concur that “Trump lost the state of Arizona – where the recent rally was held – by about 10,500 votes and his claim of tens of thousands of fraudulent votes is baseless. These figures are incredibly based on a report by Cyber Ninjas, a company Republicans hired to examine voting in the state. An audit by the company ‘showed that in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, Mr. Biden had 99 additional votes and Mr. Trump had 261 fewer votes.’”

Millions still believe or go along with whatever Trump says

In his weekly New York Times column on January 19, 2022, Thomas B. Edsall (referred to earlier) looks at polls and seeks answers from experts on why millions of Americans think Trump cannot tell a lie (https://nytimes.com/2022/01/19/opinion/trump-big-lie.html). Edsall is particularly interested in why Republican officials and voters are so compliant in going along with Trump’s trashing of the 2020 presidential election, despite the fact that at the same time many Republicans were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and to state and local elected offices across the country. Edsall sums up his own view as follows: “The capitulation to and appeasement of Trump by Republican leaders is actually setting up even worse possibilities than what we’ve lived through so far.”

Here are the views of two of Edsall’s expert contacts.

Sarah Binder, a political scientist at George Washington University and a senior fellow at Brookings, noted in an email that ‘fear of electoral retribution from Trump — and from Republican voters — drives Senate G.O.P. reluctance to break with Trump.’ The former president, she continued, has succeeded in reshaping the G.O.P. as ‘his’ party. This electoral dynamic applies in spades to Republicans’ unwillingness to challenge Trump over the Jan. 6 insurrection — or like Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell to back down from their initial criticisms. It seems as if fealty to Trump’s alternative version of the events of Jan. 6 is the litmus test for Republicans.” Binder adds: “For all of Trump’s nativist immigration, trade, and ‘America First’ views, he was lock step with Republicans on cutting taxes and regulations and stacking the courts with young conservatives. In that light, certainly while Trump was in office, Senate Republicans held their noses on any anti-democratic behavior and stuck with Trump to secure the policies they craved.”

Along similar lines, Bruce Cain, a political scientist at Stanford, observes that Republican elected officials make their calculations based on the goal of political survival: What perhaps looks like collective derangement to many outside the party ranks is really just raw political calculation. The best strategy for regaining Congressional control is to keep Trump and his supporters inside the party tent, and the only way to do that is to go along with his myths in order to get along with him. This approach, Cain continued, “is the path of least political resistance. Trump in 2016 demonstrated that he could win the presidency” while rejecting calls to reach out to minorities, by targeting a constituency that is “predominantly white and 80 percent conservative.” Because of its homogeneity, Cain continued, “the Republican Party is much more unified than the Democrats at the moment.”

Two – Trump, the aspiring autocrat

Journalist Shane Goldmacher gives us an example (https://nytimes.com/2022/01/03/us/politics/trump-endorses-viktor-orban-hungary.html). He reports, “Former President Donald J. Trump endorsed Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, on Monday [January 3], formally pledging his ‘complete support’ to a far-right foreign leader who has touted turning Hungary into an ‘illiberal democracy.’”

Orban was an early supporter of Trump, endorsing him in the summer of 2016.

“After he won, Mr. Trump granted Mr. Orban a meeting in the Oval Office in 2019. The Hungarian leader had been denied such an audience since 1998.” And: “After that meeting, Mr. Trump said Mr. Orban was ‘probably, like me, a little bit controversial, but that’s OK.’”

Goldmacher gives us an idea of what Orban’s illiberal democracy entails.

“Mr. Orban and his party have steadily consolidated power in Hungary by weakening the country’s independent and democratic institutions — rewriting election laws to favor his Fidesz party, changing school textbooks, curbing press freedoms, overhauling the country’s Constitution and changing the composition of the judiciary.”

In their book, Presidents, Populism, and the Crisis of Democracy, Political scientists William G. Howell and Terry M. Moe refer to how Trump has “spoken admiringly of autocrats – particularly Russia’s Vladimir Putin, but also Xi Jinping (China), Rodrigo Duterte (Philippines), Viktor Orban (Hungary), Jaroslaw Kaczynski (Poland), Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Turkey), and Mohammad bin Salman (Saudi Arabia)” (p. 110).

Three – Trump’s next coup has already begun

Atlantic magazine journalist Barton Gellman has written a widely acclaimed, in-depth article titled “Trump’s Next Coup Has Already Begun” (https://theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/01/january-6-insurrection-trump-coup-2024-election/620843). His opening paragraph conveys his central thesis.

“Technically, the next attempt to overthrow a national election may not qualify as a coup. It will rely on subversion more than violence, although each will have its place. If the plot succeeds, the ballots cast by American voters will not decide the presidency in 2024. Thousands of votes will be thrown away, or millions, to produce the required effect. The winner will be declared the loser. The loser will be certified president-elect.”

Republican operatives and their supporters are already acting to win elections through “an apparatus of election theft.” Trump and his party have convinced “a dauntingly large number of Americans that the essential workings of democracy are corrupt, that made up claims of fraud are true, that only cheating can thwart their victory at the polls, that tyranny has usurped their government, and that violence is a legitimate response.” Some thousands of them converged in Washington D.C. on January 6 to hear Trump and others claim that the election was rigged, that Trump won by millions of votes, and that they should “be strong” and march to the Capitol and stop the certification of electors for Joe Biden.

Gellman interviewed a couple of participants who were at the riot to understand how they now explained [a year after the January 6 riot] what happened. Despite the video and first-hand evidence that captured the violence, the property damage, and the injuries to 151 officers from the Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police Department and deaths, the rioters now endorse one or more of the following notions. One, they argue that rally was peaceful. Two, “if there was violence…the patriots were not to blame.” Three, agents provocateurs, say, the FBI, incited the violence. They also make up their own numbers on the 2020 election results. Gellman sums it up: “Each rebuttal is met with fresh round of delusions.”

Gellman refers to research by Robert A. Pape, an expert on political violence, and “a virtual group of seven research professionals, supported by two dozen University of Chicago undergraduates, who have “gathered court documents, public records, and news reports to compile a group profile of the insurgents.” Their most significant finding is that “insurgents were much more likely to come from a county where the white share of the population was in decline.” The would-be insurrectionists were worried that whites will soon become a minority in the country and then become second-class citizens. It’s referred to as “the Great Replacement Theory.”

Pape and his research team ran two national opinion surveys, in March and June of 2021. The June poll found that “just over 8 percent agreed that Biden is illegitimate and that violence was justified to restore Trump to the White House. That corresponds to 21 million American adults, whom Pape calls “committed insurrectionists.” Pape and his team also found that about “two-thirds of them agreed that ‘African American people or Hispanic people in our country will eventually have more rights than whites.’” One of Gellman’s respondents claimed his career in fire fighting had been negatively affected by affirmative action that, he said, discriminates against whites.

So, there is a large, violent-ready and armed group in Trump’s loyal base. There are other developments based on Republican control of “statehouses, state election authorities, courthouses, Congress, and the Republican Party apparatus” that have improved Trump’s position since January 6. Their main objective has been to change the conditions in state election systems so that electors are picked in swing states by Republican legislators, nullifying any unfavorable popular vote.

To achieve this end, they are working to remove state election officials who refused to support Trump in the decertification maneuvers. Gellman writes: “In at least 15 more states [in addition to Georgia, Michigan, and Arizona] Republicans have advanced new laws to shift authority over elections from governors and career officials in the executive branch to the legislature. Under the Orwellian banner of ‘election integrity,’ even more have rewritten laws to make it harder for Democrats to vote. Death threats and harassment from Trump supporters have meanwhile driven nonpartisan voting administrators to contemplate retirement.”

The efforts to thwart democratic institutions also include a legal strategy called the “independent state legislature” doctrine, “which holds that statehouses have ‘plenary,’ or exclusive, control of the rules for choosing presidential electors. Taken to its logical conclusion, it could provide a legal basis for any state legislature to throw out an election result it dislikes and appoint its preferred electors instead” and, if challenged, take it to the partisan Supreme Court for support.

Gellman concludes his analysis with this foreboding warning. “The midterms [in 2022], marked by gerrymandering, will more than likely tighten the GOP’s grip on the legislatures in swing states. The Supreme Court may be ready to give those legislatures near-absolute control over the choice of presidential electors.

“And if Republicans take back the House and Senate, as oddsmakers seem to believe they will, the GOP will be firmly in charge of counting the electoral votes.

Against Biden or another Democratic nominee, Donald Trump may be capable of winning a fair election in 2024. He does not intend to take that chance.”

Four- Republicans defeat Democrats’ voting reform bills

Democrats in the U.S. Senate have lost, at least for the time being, in their efforts to pass two voting bills aimed at making it less difficult for Americans to vote. The bills are named the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Both bills were previously approved in the U.S. House of Representatives. Provisions from both bills were combined for the current votes. The House Democrats, with a small majority, passed the updated legislation on a party-line basis.

However, Senate Democrats were unable to override a Republican filibuster, requiring 60 votes for a bill to pass. They were thwarted in their hope to pass the bill through a reconciliation process that needs only a simple majority of 51 votes. Two Democrats out of 50 voted joined all 50 Republicans to defeat the legislation. The final vote on January 19, 2022, was 52 against and 48 in favor.

(See Norm Ornstein’s article, “The Five Myths about the Filibuster, https://washingtonpost.com/outlook/five-myths-about-the-filibuster, and Caroline Fredrickson’s “The Case Against the Filibuster, https://brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/case-against-filibuster.)

Jane C. Timm has described on January 13, 2022, the highlights of the combined bill, The Freedom to Vote Act, in an article for NBC News (https://nbcnews.com/politics/elections/what-s-democrats-latest-voting-legislation-what-would-bills-do-n1287301). Timm identifies five categories of Democratic concerns that are addressed in the bill that has been designed to increase access, fairness, safety for state election officials, campaign finance reform, and an updating of voting rights law. The Republicans want none of this. Here is what the Democratic bills would have provided.

#1 – National standards for voting access.

“The Freedom to Vote Act would create a set of standards for federal elections to ensure that voters have similar access to the ballot box across the country” and “neutralize the restrictions to the ballot box that many states have advanced in the last year and are considering advancing this year, while also establishing standards that would make U.S. elections look more similar from state to state.”

It would require states “to offer a minimum number of days of early voting and the ability to vote by mail for any reason. With respect to voter ID, the bill “would allow a wider range of identifying documents — and electronic copies — than some states with strict voter ID laws now permit.” It would make Election Day a national holiday, “require states to keep voting lines to 30 minutes or less,” “create or increase penalties for intimidating and deceiving voters to counteract misinformation and disinformation about elections, which have run rampant since 2020,” “restore federal voting rights to people with felony convictions after they have been released from prison,” and permit voter registration at state motor vehicle agencies.

#2 – Redistricting reform

“The Freedom to Vote Act would also outlaw partisan gerrymandering in congressional maps and require neutral redistricting standards for all states and mandate transparency in the process. That would be likely to fuel legal challenges in states that have already enacted new legislative maps for this year’s elections and force states that haven’t yet drawn their maps to adopt the new standards.”

#3 – Protecting election workers and records, and giving legal recourse

“The Freedom to Vote Act would make it a federal crime to intentionally harass, intimidate, threaten or coerce election officials, poll workers and election volunteers for doing their jobs. 

“The bill would also reaffirm voters’ ability to sue in federal court if they believe their votes or the right of those votes to be fairly counted have been infringed upon, which advocates say they believe would give voters recourse against election subversion. Advocates hope the measure would instruct federal courts to continue enforcing voting access.

“Election records and paper ballots would be subject to new requirements and regulations to keep election materials from being used in partisan ballot reviews like the one in Maricopa County, Arizona, after the 2020 election. Those machines were later decertified by Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs because of the work of inexperienced third-party contractors. Official audits, however, would be required after elections to boost public trust and transparency.”

#4 – Campaign finance reform

“To curb the effect of anonymous money in elections, the bill would require the disclosure of major donors by entities that spend more than $10,000 in an election reporting cycle while also subjecting super PACs to new rules to keep their operations separate from campaigns.”

“The bill would also create a small-dollar donor matching program for House candidates who opt in, seemingly an effort to empower smaller donors.

“The Federal Election Commission, which has been stymied by partisan gridlock, would be reworked to be less dependent on a majority of the commission to approve new investigations and to instead allow the commission’s general counsel to investigate and issue subpoenas.”

#5 – Update the Voting Rights Act

“A separate and much narrower bill would update the Voting Rights Act of 1965. A House version of the legislation, named for John Lewis, the civil rights leader who served in Congress for more than 30 years and died in 2020, passed the House in August. Murkowski and other senators updated the bill in the Senate in November.

“The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was landmark legislation that barred discriminatory election laws and gave the Justice Department the authority to challenge new state laws in jurisdictions with histories of discrimination before they were implemented, through a process known as preclearance.

“In 2013, the Supreme Court said in Shelby County v. Holder that the formula used to decide which states were subject to preclearance was unconstitutional; the bill would update the formula, subjecting states with at least 15 voting rights violations over 25 years — or 10 if one of them was committed by the state itself — to the process. A state could remove itself from the preclearance process if it avoided violations for a decade.

“At the time of the Shelby decision, all or part of 15 states were subject to preclearance. Wendy Weiser, an expert at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in October that seven states — Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia — and Cook County, Illinois, would qualify for preclearance, with a long list of voting rights violations among them. Alabama and Florida are “on the cusp” of qualifying, she added.

“The bill would also make it easier for advocates to successfully sue under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, bolstering the law’s protections for groups of voters who are disproportionately harmed by voting rules; the Supreme Court limited the use of Section 2 in a ruling last year.

“The bill would also add a Native American Voting Rights Act, which includes a number of provisions to make it easier for voters on tribal lands. The bill would require states to offer polling sites and voter registration on tribal lands.”

Five – At the state level – the selective suppression of the vote and the subversion of state-level election systems is well underway – “laboratories of autocracy”

The U.S. Democracy Center’s provides some year-end evidence for 2021 on
“the democracy crisis in the making” (https://statsuniteddemocracy.org/resources/decupdate).

The Center finds that, as of December 15, 2021, “there have been at least 262 bills introduced in 41 states that would interfere with election administration — and 32 of these bills have become law across 17 states.” These laws would variously “allow states to politicize, criminalize, and interfere with elections.” The subversion of voting and elections will by all accounts continue in 2022.

Given the evidence, they anticipate that the Republican’s anti-democratic strategies will continue through 2022 and “will consist of four key pillars: (i) changing the rules to make it easier to undermine the will of the voters; (ii) changing the people who defend our democratic system by sidelining, replacing, or attacking professional election officials; (iii) promoting controversial constitutional theories about our elections to justify partisan takeovers; and (iv) eroding public confidence and trust in elections.” This is the antithesis of what the Democratic Party advocates.

#1 – Changing the rules– “In the last six months of this year, state legislatures have continued pursuing their efforts to micromanage election administration, criminalize human error, and seize control of election administration.” They identify 17 states in a graph that are engaged in at least some such activities. If they are successful, elections could be made unworkable, voting results would be far more difficult to finalize, and “in the worst-case scenario, allow state legislatures to substitute their preferred candidates for those chosen by the voters.”

Here’s one of their examples.

“…in Pennsylvania, a wide-ranging measure to rewrite the state’s election law, which included election subversion provisions, was vetoed by the governor in late June. Undeterred, the legislature launched a sweeping, ad hoc, and standardless audit of the 2020 election, which, among other things, attempted to subpoena the private information of more than nine million registered voters for analysis by a firm with no experience in election law or data analytics. The legislature then initiated an effort to bypass the governor’s veto via a constitutional amendment. Most alarmingly, a version of the proposed constitutional amendment, currently working its way through the legislature, would allow the legislature to unilaterally scuttle any election regulations issued by the state’s chief elections officer (as well as other executive branch agencies) and would also create a permanent audit system subject to the legislature’s rules.

#2 – Changing the People: “Our democracy depends on the hard work and commitment of hundreds of thousands of people, from the precinct-level election judges who open polling places at dawn, to the county boards that canvass and report results, to secretaries of state who certify elections. They form a chain that makes our democratic elections work, and this year, we have seen concerted efforts to weaken every link in the chain.”

Their investigation of precinct-level candidates for election judge and inspector in two Pennsylvania counties identified “a cluster of election deniers who had won their races.” In Michigan, “in eight of the eleven largest counties…county Republican parties have systematically replaced their appointees to county canvassing boards with election deniers who embrace conspiracy theories and lies about the 2020 election.” Back to Pennsylvania, the “state legislature threatened to impeach the members of two county election commissions who voted to count timely received mail-in or absentee ballots that lacked a date handwritten by the voter.” Among other examples, they cite “a survey by the Brennan Center for Justice, ‘one in three election officials feel unsafe because of their job, and nearly one in five listed threats to their lives as a job-related concern.”

#3 – Promoting Controversial Constitutional Theories:

They refer to how in recent years, “a small group of conservative legal scholars have begun promoting what they call the ‘independent state legislature doctrine.’ (Also mentioned by Gellman.) According to the scholars, state legislatures have the sole and unilateral authority to set election rules under the U.S. Constitution. Under this controversial theory, their authority is immune from court review and action from a governor or attorney general.”

Influenced by this “novel theory, legislators in several states are increasingly bold in arguing that they can change election outcomes.” Thus, in Wisconsin, “one of the state’s sitting U.S. Senators, Sen. Ron Johnson, proposed in an interview with a Milwaukee newspaper that “the legislature seize control of elections.”

#4 – Undermining Confidence: “More than a year after the 2020 election, while a majority of Americans trust the 2020 election results, a substantial portion of the American population still believes that the election was stolen. Seventy-three percent of Republicans believe that President Joe Biden was not the rightful winner of the election. And looking forward to 2022, while 80 percent of Democrats believe next year’s midterm election will be fair, only 42 percent of Republicans feel it will be fair. Worse yet, 39 percent of people who think that the 2020 election was stolen believe that violence may be justified to ‘save our country.’”

Their concern is that when a major portion of the electorate loses faith in how we run our elections, it “is more likely to support, or even encourage, nakedly overturning the will of the people.” As it stands now, “we have a democracy crisis in the making.”

Six – Millions of Angry, Armed Americans Stand Ready to Seize Power If Trump Loses in 2024,

David H. Freedman authors an article on December 20, 2021, titled “Millions of Angry, Armed Americans Stand Ready to Seize Power If Trump Loses in 2024,”

(https://newsweek.com/2021/12/31/millions-angry-armed-americans-stand-ready-seize-power-if-trump-loses-2024-1660953.html)

Freedman describes the perspective of one avid Trump supporter. Mike “Wompus” Nieznany is a 73-year-old Vietnam veteran who walks with a cane from the combat wounds he received during his service. That disability doesn’t keep Nieznany from making a living selling custom motorcycle luggage racks from his home in Gainesville, Georgia.” Neither did it slow him down when it came time to visit Washington, D.C.—heavily armed and ready to do his part in overthrowing the U.S. government.

Millions of fellow would-be insurrectionists will be there, too, Nieznany says, “a ticking time-bomb” targeting the Capitol. “There are lots of fully armed people wondering what’s happening to this country,” he says. “Are we going to let Biden keep destroying it? Or do we need to get rid of him? We’re only going to take so much before we fight back.” The 2024 election, he adds, may well be the trigger.

Freedman points out that Nieznany is no loner. His political comments on the social-media site Quora received 44,000 views in the first two weeks of November (2020) and more than 4 million overall. He is one of many rank-and-file Republicans who own guns and in recent months have talked openly of the need to take down—by force if necessary—a federal government they see as illegitimate, overreaching and corrosive to American freedom. Freedman elaborates his point.

“The phenomenon goes well beyond the growth of militias, which have been a feature of American life at least since the Ku Klux Klan rose to power after the Civil War. Groups like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, which took part in the January 6th riot at the Capitol and may have played organizational roles, have grown in membership. Law enforcement has long tracked and often infiltrated these groups. What Nieznany represents is something else entirely: a much larger and more diffuse movement of more-or-less ordinary people, stoked by misinformation, knitted together by social media and well-armed. In 2020, 17 million Americans bought 40 million guns and in 2021 were on track to add another 20 million. If historical trends hold, the buyers will be overwhelmingly white, Republican and southern or rural.”

Seven – What Rights Blue States May Lose If the GOP Consolidates its Power

If the Republicans succeed in undermining the U.S. election system, what are the likely consequences for Democrats in what are now blue states? Ed Kilgore considers this question in a New York Magazine article on January 1, 2022 https://nymag.com/intelligencer/article/rights-blue-states-may-lose-gop-returns-power.html). He identifies

It is likely that Roe v. Wade will be overturned and abortion policy will be returned to the states. This has long been a primary goal for an anti-abortion movement that has formed a strong partnership with the Republican Party and is a significant part of Trump’s base. But Kilgore posits that “the ultimate objective — enshrined in the GOP platform since 1980 — is a federally established ‘fetal personhood’ right that bans any state from allowing abortion.” Already many Republican-dominated states are instituting abortion bans without exceptions for rape and incest. This could be expanded  by “a federal statute imposing personhood rights on [all] the states.”

Voting rights will be further restricted in the name of “election integrity” laws that keep any state from expanding voting rights. “This could [for example] include banning state laws expanding access to the ballot via liberalized early voting (particularly by mail), ex-felon re-enfranchisement, and simplified or automatic voter registration.”

Public school curricula and national education standards will be subverted by “parental rights laws.” Kilgore points out that “rank-and-file Republicans still utilizing public schools have become so hostile to teachers unions and ‘the education bureaucracy’ that a partywide ‘parental rights” movement has mobilized both those who want public funds to go directly to parents to use for private and home schools and those who want to control what (and how) public schools teach.”

Inevitably,” Kilgore writes, “if they are in a position to do so, it is very likely that Republicans in Congress and a future conservative administration will take parental rights national with legislation to keep states and localities from monopolizing public funds or from teaching material conservatives find objectionable (most obviously, on the subject of racism, but also on such conservative religious targets as sex education and evolution). GOP administrations for years have promoted federal school-voucher programs as a way to undermine public school funding; a broader attack on teachers unions and ‘bureaucrats’ is inevitable.”

And, perhaps of greatest existential significance, there will be bans on state and local efforts to stop climate change. On this point, Kilgore writes:

“Federal anti-climate-change activism was on full display during the Trump administration, particularly in its wide-ranging war in the federal courts on California’s anti-pollution policies. Given the emergence of climate change as both an existential crisis for much of the GOP’s business base and a cultural issue for MAGA activists, you can count on future wars on blue-state climate initiatives from Washington when Republicans are fully in control.”

Concluding thoughts

The Trump/Republican drive to consolidate political power at all levels of government is well documented. The question then is what can be done to effectively contest such efforts?

Richard L. Hasen, the Chancellor’s Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine, offers an analysis of what might save American democracy (https://nytimes.com/2022/01/07/opinion/trump-democracy-voting-jan-6.html).

In the end, he says, the Democratic Party must look for and facilitate the creation of coalitions with any Republicans, businesses, civic groups, judges, and whoever is willing to join the struggle against election subversion, along with reaching out to citizens who have become indifferent, who are uninformed, or who are cynical about any progress. This means supporting efforts by pro-democracy groups to educate, organize, get people out to vote, supporting good political candidates, becoming a candidate, volunteering to work at the polls, petitioning, writing letters, becoming informed. But in the final analysis, Hasen writes, “mass, peaceful organizing and protests may be necessary in 2024 and 2025.” “If, he says, “the officially announced vote totals do not reflect the results of a fair election process, that should lead to nationwide peaceful protests and even general strikes.” He adds:

“One could pessimistically say that the fact that we even need to have this conversation about fair elections and rule of law in the United States in the 21st century is depressing and shocking. One could simply retreat into complacency. Or one could see the threats this country faces as a reason to buck up and prepare for the battle for the soul of American democracy that may well lay ahead. If Republicans have embraced authoritarianism or have refused to confront it, and Democrats in Congress cannot or will not save us, we must save ourselves.”

If it comes to this, as well it might, then it may be too late for social movements and progressive unions to make enough of a difference. If democratically organized coalitions prove to be insufficient to stem the anti-democratic, authoritarian drives of the Republicans and Trump’s massive base, then the country is in for a long period of anti-democratic rule.

The cornerstone of extremist political power will rest on the federal government, a vast and corrupted federal bureaucracy, an extraordinary surveillance capability, the military, a supportive and expanded right-wing media disinformation apparatus, a partisan federal judiciary and Supreme Court. And, amidst it all, the majority of voters will be disenfranchised or see their votes nullified. We also should remember that Trump in the White House means he would have the authority to start a nuclear war with little or no consultation. See William J. Perry’s book, The Button: The New Nuclear Arms Race and Presidential Power from Truman to Trump.

But such potential eventualities are not written in stone. For the foreseeable future, despite the growing obstacles, millions of people will find ways to vote against them. Many will find ways to go on organizing and educating. The right-wing attachment to neoliberal economic policies and the inequality that it creates will seed unrest in many parts of the society. Their commitment to a fossil-fuel-based energy system and unregulated economic growth will lead to ever-more disastrous and costly climate and environmental disasters. Pandemics and other health crises will be disregarded. Under such conditions, the question is whether those in power will double-down and watch the society fall into a cycle of despair and ungovernability or be forced to reinstate democratic reforms under the pressure of massive unrest and economic and environmental chaos.

Trump and the implications of January 6 for American democracy

Bob Sheak, January 11, 2022

Introduction

The majority of Democrats, as well as an overall majority of all Americans are remembering the anniversary of January 6, 2021, as an insurrection by a motley and violent mob of Trump supporters, all of whom were in Washington, D.C., to carry out their leader’s appeals to stop the peaceful and traditionally routine transfer of presidential power, as exemplified by the efforts of the right-wing Trump forces to sabotage the election of Joe Biden. Yes, according to the Britannica dictionary, the January 6 uprising did constitute an insurrection:

“insurrection, an organized and usually violent act of revolt or rebellion against an established government or governing authority of a nation-state or other political entity by a group of its citizens or subjects; also, any act of engaging in such a revolt. An insurrection may facilitate or bring about a revolution, which is a radical change in the form of government or political system of a state, and it may be initiated or provoked by an act of sedition, which is an incitement to revolt or rebellion.”

“In the United States, insurrection against the authority of the federal government is a crime under 18 U.S. Code §2383, which provides that:

“Whoever incites, sets on foot, assists, or engages in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof, or gives aid or comfort thereto, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.”

Incitement

Trump claimed for months preceding and continuously after the 2020 election that the election had been rigged against him and insisted falsely and perhaps seditiously that he had won the election by millions of votes. It came to be known as the “Big Lie.” He did this despite numerous re-counts and court judgements that found no significant voting fraud in any state election. Zachary B. Wolf analyzes the origin of the term “Big Lie” and how it has been used by Trump (https://cnn.com/2021/05/19/politics/donald-trump-big-lie-explainer/index.html).

For example, Wolf describes how Trump came to adopt the term. Here’s some of what he writes.

“Trump falsely claimed after the 2016 election, which he won, that millions of people had illegally voted for his opponent, Hillary Clinton. Leading up to the 2020 election, Trump again routinely asserted that voting in the US would be rigged against him, and afterward, when he denied his loss, critics began using the term ‘the Big Lie’ to describe his rejection of the factual world.

“Trump, master propagandist, has since seized the term from his critics and now routinely uses it to claim it is he who is the victim of untruths and conspiracies. ‘The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE!’ he said in a statement issued by his PAC on May 3.

Since then, Trump’s use of it to claim his own persecution has arguably eclipsed its use to warn about his lies as a form of propaganda.”

Disregarding the overwhelming evidence, his huge electoral and ideological base continues to lap up whatever came out of his mouth and/or what was broadcast on the right-wing media that echoed the “Big Lie.”

There is no disputing that those who came to Trump’s “Save America” rally at the Ellipse within the National Mall just south of the White House were ready to do Trump’s bidding. (I’ll elaborate on these points later in this post.) They believed that the election had been stolen and they were waiting to be told what they should do, that is, walk to the capitol building and “stop the steal.” The Capitol is about 2 miles from the Ellipse.

Upon reaching the Capitol – some had already been there – a huge throng of 2,000 or so Trump supporters violently invaded the building, while thousands of others watched supportively. The violent invaders were not tourists peacefully entering and roaming through the halls of the Capitol building. They were not greeted by the capitol police as friendly visitors. No, they rampaged through the building, or watched while others attacked and injured the police and damaged property, with the purpose of stopping the certification of Biden’s presidential victory.

Be clear about this. They would not have been there without Trump’s encouragement and a coordinated plan by Trump and his supporters to call them to a rally in D.C. None of this would have occurred without Trump. There would have been no massing of thousands of people, no crowd to enflame, no violent invasion of the Capitol building, no injuries to capitol police, no terrorizing of elected officials, their staffs, janitors, and other workers.

There were others involved

Logan Jaffe and his colleagues at ProPublica provide further documentation of how some “capitol rioters” were also engaged in planning for the Jan. 6 “stop the steal” rally (https://propublica.org/article/capitol-rioters-planned-for-weeks-in-plain-sight-the-police-werent-ready). They write:

“…the far-right supporters of President Donald Trump railed on social media that the election had been stolen. They openly discussed the idea of violent protest on the day Congress met to certify the result.

“‘We came up with the idea to occupy just outside the CAPITOL on Jan 6th,’ leaders of the Stop the Steal movement wrote on Dec. 23. They called their Wednesday demonstration the Wild Protest, a name taken from a tweet by Trump that encouraged his supporters to take their grievances to the streets of Washington. ‘Will be wild,’ the president tweeted.

“Ali Alexander, the founder of the movement, encouraged people to bring tents and sleeping bags and avoid wearing masks for the event. ‘If D.C. escalates… so do we,’ Alexander wrote on Parler last week — one of scores of social media posts welcoming violence that were reviewed by ProPublica in the weeks leading up to Wednesday’s attack on the capitol.”

Bottom of Form

Another example: “On Dec. 12, a poster on the website MyMilitia.com urged violence if senators made official the victory of President-elect Joe Biden.

“If this does not change, then I advocate, Revolution and adherence to the rules of war,” wrote someone identifying themselves as I3DI. “I say, take the hill or die trying.”

What Trump said at the rally: Incitement?

At the rally, a number of speakers ginned up the crown before Trump spoke.

Wikipedia cites sources documenting that “at the rally, Donald Trump Jr.Rudy Giuliani, and several Republican members of Congress addressed the crowd, repeating unfounded claims of electoral fraud affecting the 2020 election outcome” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_2021_United_States_Capitol_attack). Then in an hour-long speech, President Trump told the crowd to march to the Capitol, “assuring his audience he would be with them, to demand that Congress ‘only count the electors who have been lawfully slated…’”

Robert Reich, an American economist, professor, author, lawyer, and political commentator, summarizes what Trump told the crowd what they should do (https://robertreich.org/post/672010546164449280).

“Trump repeated his falsehoods about how the election was stolen. ‘We will never give up,’ he said. ‘We will never concede. It will never happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved. Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore.’”

Trump also told the crowd, “We’re going to have to fight much harder…. We’re going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women, and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them, because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong…. We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

 “When you catch somebody in a fraud, you are allowed to go by very different rules. So I hope Mike [Pence] has the courage to do what he has to do, and I hope he doesn’t listen to the RINOs [Republicans in Name Only] and the stupid people that he’s listening to.”

“Then he dispatched the crowd to the Capitol as the electoral count was about to start. The attack on the Capitol came immediately after.”

Energized by the speeches at the rally, and reinforced by the lies that Trump supporters had been told over the previous months about the election, thousands then marched to the Capitol.

Trump left the rally and watched the attempted insurrection from his private dining room adjacent to the Oval Office for hours

Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Martin report on what Trump did in the nearly five hours after his provocative speech at the Ellipse, where he urged his supporters to march to the Capitol, and, as the Capitol was under attack, and up to the time he sent out his final tweet “telling his followers to remember the day forever” (https://nytimes.com/2021/02/13/us/politics/trump-capitol-riot.html).

After leaving the rally, the president arrived back at the White House about 1:19 p.m., just “as the crowd was making its way up Pennsylvania Avenue and beginning to swarm around the Capitol” and as television “news footage showed the mob” moving closer to the doors of the building. “At some point,” Haberman and Martin write, “Mr. Trump went to the Oval Office and watched news coverage of a situation that was growing increasingly tense.”

Former White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham says Trump was “gleefully watching” the January 6 riot on TV and “hitting rewind,” according to a report by Oma Seddiq for Business Insider (https://www.businessinsider.com/stephanie-grisham-trump-was-gleefully-watching-the-january-6-riot-2022-1). Seddoq reports on what Grisham told CNN,

“All I know about that day was that he was in the dining room, gleefully watching on his TV as he often did, ‘look at all of the people fighting for me,’ hitting rewind, watching it again.”  

Seddiq adds: “Grisham’s comments echo reporting in multiple news outlets and books last year [2021] that said Trump had watched the riot unfold on television and resisted taking swift action to call on his supporters to stop the violence. She also quotesa CNN news story in which reporter journalist Carol Leonnig refers to Trump “watching it and almost giddy.”

Haberman and Martin report that Trump put out his first tweet to the mob at 4:17 p.m.. about 3 hours into the riot. He “posted a video on Twitter of him speaking directly to the camera in the Rose Garden. ‘I know your pain,’ Mr. Trump said. ‘I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us, it was a landslide election, and everyone knows it, especially the other side. But you have to go home now.’”

“He added, ‘We have to have peace. We have to have law and order. We have to respect our great people in law and order. We don’t want anybody hurt.’”

His final tweet at 6:01 referred again to the Big Lie and gave a compliment to the rioters.

“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”

The evidence doesn’t support the “Big Lie”

Amy Sherman and Miriam Valverde report for Politifact that at least 86 judges — from state courts to the U.S. Supreme Court — have rejected at least one post-election lawsuit filed by Trump or his supporters, according to a review of court filings by the Washington Post, published Dec. 12. Around that time, more than 50 cases had failed or been tossed out of court (https://politifact.com/factchecks/2021/jan/08/joe-biden-right-more-60-election-lawsuits). It subsequently rose to 60 failed suits.

The Post analysis also found that 38 judges appointed by Republicans were among the 86 judges who had rejected lawsuits. The U.S. Supreme Court, which includes three Trump-appointed justices, subsequently rejected Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s challenge to election results in four states.

Who participated in the January 6 assault on the Capitol?

As noted earlier, they were not just tourists wanting to learn more about American history, admire statues of American presidents, or see the places where the country’s laws are made. But also, contrary to some liberal and leftist analysts, the majority of those who showed up for the rally were not there because of reasons of economic insecurity, wage stagnation, rising income or wealth inequality. They were under Trump’s spell and believed that the election had been stolen from him.

They responded to his call to come to D.C., believing that Biden and the Democrats posed a threat to the kind of government and country they wanted. They did not want a government that would take away their “freedoms,” such as, taking away their white status privileges, opening the borders to hordes of allegedly dangerous immigrants, supporting civil rights and justice for Black Americans. And Trump, their hero, would not let any of this happen if he were rightfully made president.

Scotty Tong and Serena McMahon report on the extensive survey research of Robert Pape, who directs the Chicago Project on Security and Threats at the University of Chicago, research that identifies demographic characteristics of the Jan. 6 mob (https://wbur.org/hereandnow/2022/01/03/jan-6-rioters-white-older).

Pape and his team analyzed the characteristics of more than 700 people arrested for breaking through the barricades on January 6. They found, unsurprisingly, that “people interviewed by officials said they went to the Capitol on Jan. 6 to support former President Donald Trump that he, not Biden, was the legitimate president. They came from a broad range of places, but not mainly in raw numbers from violent fringe groups, or from impoverished or unemployed circumstances, or from those with connections to the military, or from rural areas and Republican congressional districts, although they were all there and some played particularly violent roles.

Rather, Pape’s evidence revealed

  • “…as of Dec. 2021, Pape says 87% of Capitol rioters he’s analyzed were not members of violent groups like the Oath Keepers or Proud Boys.

“We’re used to thinking of extremists as on the fringe,” he says. “… What we see over and over in their demographics and in their motives really is a disturbing picture: That this is coming from part of the mainstream.”

  • More than half of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists were white-collar workers such as business owners, architects, doctors and lawyers.
  • Out of the hundreds of people arrested for breaking into the Capitol, he says only 7% were unemployed at the time — nearly the national unemployment average.
  • Normally, 40% of right-wing extremists have prior military service, whereas Jan. 6 Capitol rioters sat at about 15%, he says.
  • More than half of the more than 700 people arrested hail from counties where Biden won…. Rioters flooded in from places such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia and Chicago, he says, or from the immediate suburbs surrounding those cities, where they were essentially the political minority.

The most significant finding, inferred from the data, is that most of them were motivated, at least in part, by the fear that their white privilege and culture were in danger of being lost to a multicultural, liberal/left Democratic government. Tong and McMahon put it as follows.

“Looking back at the statistics Pape has compiled about the people involved on Jan. 6, the most notable is how many insurrectionists came from counties that lost their white, non-Hispanic population…. That loss has been amplified by a right-wing conspiracy — voiced by mainstream political leaders and media figures — known as the great replacement of white people by minorities and even the Democratic Party in order to win future elections. The conspiracy is no longer a fringe narrative but rather touted and embraced by key players in the mainstream.”

The intelligence agencies failed to recognize the threats leading up to January 6, 2021

William Arkin argues that the lack of adequate security at the Capitol on January 6, stemmed from the secret service and intel agencies mistakenly overlooking or minimizing the indications that there would be “civil disobedience” (https://democracynow.org/2022/01/06/us_capitol_insurrection_coup_attempt_january).

Arkin has a notable career as a national security analyst. Here is a partial summary from “wordpress.” “William M. Arkin has been working in the field of national security for almost 50 years, as an Army intelligence analyst, activist, author, journalist, academic and consultant. He has authored or coauthored more than a dozen books, two of them (Top Secret America and Nuclear Battlefields) national best sellers. He is the recipient of numerous journalism awards and his articles have appeared on the front pages of The Washington PostThe New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times. He has written numerous cover stories for Newsweek magazine. And he has been on NBC News countless times as analyst. He has appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press, CBS News 60 Minutes, ABC’s 20/20, Dateline and in multiple long-form Frontline and History Channel programs” (https://williamarkin.workpress.com/about).

Here is some of what he said in his interview on Democracy Now on the failure of intelligence agencies to identify the threat leading up to January 6.

“On January 4, five days after the request, acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller approved the use of the D.C. National Guard in support of law enforcement in protection of the Capitol for the upcoming Joint Session of Congress, two days away. But a closer look at what Miller approved reveals how much the National Guard is a false issue, hiding the much larger question of the failure of the intelligence community to anticipate what would happen.” Arkin provides evidence that the inadequate security force at the Capitol on January 6 reflected an intelligence failure.” For example:

“In the afternoon of January 4, “a multi-agency teleconference was… hosted by the D.C. Police, and included the FBI, the Secret Service, the Park Police, Supreme Court Police, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, and DC Fire & Emergency Medical Services.” Arkin continues: ‘They discussed the first of three Daily Intelligence Reports from the Capitol Police. The report said that the probability of acts of civil disobedience was on a continuum from ‘Remote’ to ‘Improbable.’”

The Damage

#1 – As reflected in the property damage

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. has compiled relevant evidence, published on January 6, 2022 (https://justice.gov/usao-dc/one-year-jan-6-attack-capitol). Here’s what they report.

“Thursday, Jan. 6 2022, marks one year since the attack on the U.S. Capitol that disrupted a joint session of the U.S. Congress in the process of affirming the presidential election results. The government continues to investigate losses that resulted from the breach of the Capitol, including damage to the Capitol building and grounds, both inside and outside the building. According to a May 2021 estimate by the Architect of the Capitol, the attack caused approximately $1.5 million worth of damage to the U.S. Capitol building.

“Under the continued leadership of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the FBI’s Washington Field Office, the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the attack continues to move forward at an unprecedented speed and scale. The Department of Justice’s resolve to hold accountable those who committed crimes on Jan. 6, 2021, has not, and will not, wane.”

Journalists Jie Jenny Zou and Erin B. Logan report, “the Cost of cleanup and repairs: $1.5 million to more than $30 million” (https://latimes.com/politics/story/2022-01-05/by-the-numbers-jan-6-anniversary).

#2 – As reflected in the charges brought by the government against rioters

“Based on the public court documents, below is a snapshot of the investigation as of Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021. Complete versions of most of the public court documents used to compile these statistics are available on the Capitol Breach Investigation Resource Page at https://www.justice.gov/usao-dc/capitol-breach-cases.”

“Arrests made: More than 725 defendants have been arrested in nearly all 50 states and the District of Columbia. (This includes those charged in both District and Superior Court).”

“Criminal charges:

  •  225 defendants have been charged with assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers or employees, including over 75 individuals who have been charged with using a deadly or dangerous weapon or causing serious bodily injury to an officer.
  • Approximately 140 police officers were assaulted Jan. 6 at the Capitol including about 80 U.S. Capitol Police and about 60 from the Metropolitan Police Department. 
  • Approximately 640 defendants have been charged with entering or remaining in a restricted federal building or grounds.
  • Over 75 defendants have been charged with entering a restricted area with a dangerous or deadly weapon.
  • More than 45 defendants have been charged with destruction of government property, and over 30 defendants have been charged with theft of government property.
  • At least 275 defendants have been charged with corruptly obstructing, influencing, or impeding an official proceeding, or attempting to do so.
  • Approximately 40 defendants have been charged with conspiracy, either: (a) conspiracy to obstruct a congressional proceeding, (b) conspiracy to obstruct law enforcement during a civil disorder, (c) conspiracy to injure an officer, or (d) some combination of the three. 

Pleas:

  • Approximately 165 individuals have pleaded guilty to a variety of federal charges, from misdemeanors to felony obstruction, many of whom will face incarceration at sentencing.
  • Approximately 145 have pleaded guilty to misdemeanors. Twenty have pleaded guilty to felonies.
  • Six of those who have pleaded guilty to felonies have pleaded to charges related to assaults on law enforcement. Four face statutory maximums of 20 years or more in prison as well as potential financial penalties. Two face statutory maximums of eight years in prison as well as potential financial penalties.

Sentencings:

  • Approximately 70 federal defendants have had their cases adjudicated and received sentences for their criminal activity on Jan. 6. Thirty-one have been sentenced to periods of incarceration. Eighteen have been sentenced to a period of home detention, and the other defendants have been sentenced to probation with no term of incarceration.
    Public Assistance:
  • Citizens from around the country have provided invaluable assistance in identifying individuals in connection with the Jan. 6 attack. The FBI continues to seek the public’s help in identifying more than 350 individuals believed to have committed violent acts on the Capitol grounds, including over 250 who assaulted police officers.
  • Additionally, the FBI currently has 16 videos of suspects wanted for violent assaults on federal officers and one video of two suspects wanted for assaults on members of the media on January 6th and is seeking the public’s help to identify them. For images and video of the attackers, please visit https://www.fbi.gov/wanted/capitol-violence. Anyone with tips can call 1-800-CALL-FBI (800-225-5324) or visit tips.fbi.gov.

One concern about the Biden government’s approach to holding people accountable for the January 6, 2021, is that the Department of Justice has yet to bring charges against Trump or his inner circle who planned the rally on Jan. 6.

On Jan. 5, 2022, Attorney General Merrick Garland responded to such criticisms. According to a report on that day by Washington Post journalistsMatt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett, Garland “vowed to hold all those responsible for the Jan. 6 riot accountable — whether they were at the Capitol or committed other crimes surrounding the day’s events — saying investigators are methodically building more complicated and serious cases and would prosecute people ‘at any level.’ The journalists’ quote him.

“‘The actions we have taken thus far will not be our last,’ Garland said Wednesday [Jan. 5], speaking in the Justice Department’s Great Hall in an address that was broadcast live online and by cable news channels. ‘The Justice Department remains committed to holding all January 6th perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law — whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy. We will follow the facts wherever they lead.’”

Additionally, according to a report on PBS by Mary Clair Jalonick (AP), “the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection is subpoenaing six people who the panel says were involved in the organization and planning of rallies that aimed to overturn Donald Trump’s defeat in the 2020 presidential election (https://pbs.org/newshour/politics/jan-6-insurrection-panel-subpoenas-6-people-who-helped-plan-trump-rallies). Those issued subpoenas, include, “Robert ‘Bobby’ Peede Jr. and Max Miller, who the committee says met with Trump in his private dining room on Jan. 4; Brian Jack, Trump’s political director at the time; and rally organizers Bryan Lewis, Ed Martin and Kimberly Fletcher.”

#3- As reflected in the physical and mental injuries to the Capitol police

Recent research by New York Times journalists Susan Dominus and Luke Broadwater finds that many of the officers have suffered long-term physical and/or emotional problems as a result of what they experienced, and hundreds have retired or left the force (https://nytimes.com/2022/01/04/magazine/jan-6-capitol-police-officers.html). They report:

“In the year since the siege on the Capitol, about 135 officers on a force of about 1,800 have quit or retired, an increase of 69 percent over the year before. (One officer quit after enduring a string of tragedies: He suffered a stroke shortly after the assault on the Capitol and then contracted the coronavirus twice because of what he viewed as the department’s lax enforcement of mask-wearing protocols.)

“More may soon join them: Papathanasiou, the union chairman, warns that more than 500 additional officers will be eligible for retirement in the next five years.

Officers we interviewed about their decision to leave said the failures of Jan. 6 were the most egregious of a series of management crises and errors. If Jan. 6 was a national tragedy, it was also one that the officers who served at the Capitol that day experienced cruelly and intimately in their own bodies, compounding the psychic fallout that has been especially profound in people who believed that their daily work reflected the country’s highest ideals: to protect members of Congress, regardless of party, in order to protect democracy itself.”

“During the turmoil, the growing body of evidence finds that Trump spent over three hours doing nothing to stop the mayhem, which was inspired by his rhetoric and which could have been ended by him… During this time, many people implored him to tell his would-be insurrectionists to cease their violent occupation of the Capitol and leave the building peacefully.”

What is it that gives Trump so much influence over his Base?

He is rich. He is not worth the $10 billion he claimed in his 2015-2016 presidential campaign. David Cay Johnston cites estimates by Bloomberg and Forbes, which run competing indexes of billionaires, put his worth at a few billion….” (The Big Cheat, p. 20). Still, quite rich.

Political scientist Anthony R. Dimaggio posits in his book, Rising Fascism in America, that “many of his supporters saw a model for what Americans aspire to in achieving ‘the good life” – decadent penthouses, regular trips to the golf course, private jets, weekend retreats at Mar-a-Lago. As pre-election polling demonstrated, one of the biggest reasons Republican voters supported his candidacy was because they saw him as a successful businessman.” For them, “Trump represented the possibilities of the American dream, particularly the notion that anything is possible” (p. 67). And that he alone could make the economy work for them as well as for the rich.”

To his supporters, it doesn’t matter how Trump got to be rich – Indeed, Trump has accumulated that few billion or so as a result of his checkered career in real estate, in hosting a popular television program, in an ultimately failed and fraudulent university, and, while president, the beneficiary of a substantial stream of investments and renting of his properties by corrupt politicians and other rich folks from around the world who hoped to win Trump’s favor. On the latter point, author and journalist Casey Michel writes in his book, American Kleptocracy, “…Trump was the first global leader to emerge from one of the key pro-kleptocracy industries – American luxury real estate….” (p. 15). And, more specifically:

“…it’s clear that Trump’s properties in the U.S. alone may have laundered billions of dollars even before he ascended to the White House. According to the most comprehensive available, Trump’s American properties sold over 1,300 units – over one-fifth of Trump’s total available condos – to buyers matching money laundering profiles: anonymously, to shell companies and cash buyers, often purchased in bulk and without ever revealing the identities of the ultimate beneficiaries…. The final bill of these suspect purchases ran to a dumbfounding $1.5 billion – and that’s before adjusting for inflation” (p. 221).

The money continued to flow into Trump properties after he became president. Michel writes: “One study from USA Today, published in the summer of 2017, discovered that… ‘the majority of his company’s real estate sales [went] to secretive shell companies that obscure the buyers’ identities” (p. 239).

Susan B. Glasser reminds us of Trump’s besmirched  record, writing on December 1, 2020, in the New Yorker magazine (online) that “Donald Trump has survived impeachment, twenty-six sexual-misconduct accusations, and thousands of lawsuits” (https://newyorker.com/news/letter-from-trump-washington/its-not-just-trumps-war-on-democracy-anymore). In their book, The Trump Revealed, Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher write: “Over three decades, Trump and his companies filed more than 1,900 lawsuits and were named as defendants in 1,450 others, according to a USA Today analysis (p. 300). David Cay Johnston reports that Trump has been a con artist his entire life. In his book, It’s Even Worse Than You Think (2018), Johnston writes:

“In The Art of the Deal he [Trump] brags about deceptions that enriched him. He has boasted about not paying banks that loaned him billions of dollars. He conned thousands of people desperate to learn what Trump said were the secrets of his success into paying up to $35,000 to attend Trump University. In a promotional video, Trump said his university would provide a better education than the finest business schools with a faculty he personally picked. Lawsuits forced Trump’s testimony and documents that showed that there were no secrets he shared with the ‘students.’ The faculty never met Trump. These professors turned out to be fast-food managers and others with no experience in real estates, the focus of the ‘university.’ Because of the lawsuits, Trump paid back $25 million to the people he conned so the scam would not follow him into the White House” (p. 10).

In his new book, The Big Cheat: How Donald Trump Fleeced America and Enriched Himself and His Family (2021; referred to earlier), Johnston digs into the evidence of how Trump and his family profited during Trump’s presidency. The thrust of Johnston’s book is captured in the following excerpts.

“Throughout his presidency, Trump was dogged by questions about whether he was a tax cheat. In 2018, the New York Times published an exhaustive inside look at how the Trump Organization, Donald Trump, and his siblings engaged along with their father, Fred, in schemes to evade income, gift, and estate taxes, while at the same time jacking up the rent on rent-controlled and rent-stabilized apartments in Brooklyn and Queens” (p. 12).

“Trump’s older sons have boasted about all the money the Trump Organization has been taking in for years from Russians. Trump spoke admiringly of the Saudis, who paid tens of millions of dollars from Trump’s apartments. Many Russians of dubious character also bought Trump apartments, as Reuters and others have documented….” (p. 49).

While president, Trump told the public that, while president, his sons would be the trustees and run the Trump Organization, with its “more than 500 corporations, partnerships, trusts, and other entities. He said that Don Jr. and Eric were free to tell him whatever they wanted or, though he didn’t mention this, whatever he demanded to know.” The arrangement seems to violate the two emolument clauses in the U.S. Constitution.

Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, the “Domestic Emoluments Clause, “limits the president’s income to what Congress determines before he assumes office.” Article 1, Section 9, the Foreign Emoluments Clause, “provides that ‘no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust [in the U.S. government], shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign state” (p. 65).

He is an effective con man. Anthony R. Dimaggio (cited earlier) writes that“Trump demonstrates traits that suggest intelligence of an unconventional sort,” and puts it as follows.

“He is cunning, manipulative, and highly strategic in his political maneuvering. He served as President of the United States for four years, and [for example] managed to retain the support of nearly half the population, despite doing nearly nothing in response to Covid-19 – the worst pandemic in a century – outside of further intensifying the crisis by claiming that those  taking it seriously were perpetuating a “hoax,’ and falsely promising the virus would quickly disappear, despite his refusal to offer a national plan for dealing with the crisis once it emerged, despite his support for a premature reopening if the country that resulted in millions of additional infections, despite his disastrous herd immunity ‘strategy,’ and his stigmatization of mask-wearing, which normalized contempt for social distancing and contributed to needless mass suffering and death” (p. 48).

Nonetheless, in the last three months of his presidency, “Trump maintained an approval rating among Republicans ranging from 82 to 90 percent,” higher than the ratings at the same point in the presidencies of Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushes. Indeed, as Dimaggio again points out, “Trump was a charismatic public speaker and manipulator who disarmed critics with a façade of clumsiness and stupidity that masked the deeper reality of a shrewd manipulator and a savvy, viciously effective political operator” (p. 49).

He has built a massive following on lies and celebrity.  Trump rose to national prominence, with the help of mainstream and right-wing media, funding from the rich and powerful, sycophantic Republicans, and, to repeat, with the skills of a masterful con man. Withal, in the final analysis, his power rests on what has become his BASE.

His mass appeal first came from his claims that Obama, the first black president,  was an illegitimate president because he was not born in the U.S. The “birther” lie. This fed into the white supremacist views of many of his followers. He also garnered a popular following as a result of his NBC television programs, The Apprentice and the Celebrity Apprentice. Johnston writes in The Big Cheat: How Donald Trump Fleeced America and Enriched Himself and His Family,

“They [the NBC programs] earned Trump the cash he needed to pose as a multibillionaire, and more importantly, they made him famous in what he called the ‘real America’ of small towns, farmland, and cities where no one wore suits or designer dresses” (pp. 2-3).

As pointed out earlier, Trump’s political base stretches beyond lower-income households and is occupationally diverse, tilted towar middle- and higher-income groups, and coalesced around white supremacist beliefs and a variety of other right-wing interests in gun deregulation, highly restrictive immigration policy, opposition to abortion and even contraception, white supremacy, Christian nationalism, a nationalistic foreign policy, the allure of a “strong man,” and many who now oppose any government mandates amid the ongoing pandemic.

In addition, there are wide swaths of the corporate community who like his adoption of neoliberal economic policies, including keeping taxes low, minimizing government regulation, dismissing the minimum wage, the absence of an anti-trust policy, while favoring fossil fuel energy policies, big military budgets, disregarding or downplaying the climate crisis, allowing pharmaceutical corporations to set the prices for COVID-19 related vaccines and prescribed drugs generally.

On the last point, Jessica Corbett finds that major corporations have broken their post-election promises not to fund “seditionists” (https://commondreams.org/news/2022/01/04/major-corporations-have-broken-promises-and-funded-seditionists-jan-6-reports-reveal). She reports on two recent studies by watchdog groups that “called out companies and trade groups that continued to financially support the 147 congressional Republicans who voted last year to overturn the 2020 presidential election results even after the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.”

(You can see the names of the 147 Republicans and what some of them said in justifying their opposition to the certification process on Jan. 6 in Appendix A of Mark Bowden and Matthew Teaque’s book, The Steal: The Attempt to Overturn the 2020 Election and the People Who Stopped It.)

One of the watchdog groups to which Corbett refers it Accountable. US, which “released an interactive report entitled In Bad Company, [focusing] on 20 Fortune 500 companies and 10 industry groups that have contributed over $3.3 million to the eight senators and 139 representatives collectively dubbed the ‘Sedition Caucus’ since a right-wing mob stormed the Capitol last year.”

Companies profiled by the group “range from fossil fuel and pharmaceutical giants such as Chevron, ExxonMobil, Merck, and Pfizer, to the shipping companies FedEx and UPS, to six major military contractors: Boeing, General Dynamics, L3Harris Technologies, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon Technologies.”

Corbett also refers to a report by the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) – authored by Angela Li and Areeba Shah. Crew details how corporate donors have “broken promises and funded seditionists” in the aftermath of the Capitol attack.” Key findings from CREW include the following.

“Since the insurrection, 717 corporations and industry groups have donated over $18 million to 143 of the 147 members of Congress who objected to the results of the 2020 presidential election, as well as the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee.”

“Li and Shah found that despite pledging to stop or halt donations to the Sedition Caucus, reviewed companies ‘have contributed a total of $4,785,000 to insurrectionist political groups, including $2,381,250 directly’ to lawmakers’ campaigns and political action committees (PACs).

“Boeing ($346,500), Koch Industries ($308,000), American Crystal Sugar ($285,000), General Dynamics ($233,500), and Valero Energy ($207,500) are the top corporate donors to those who objected to the election and their party committees.”

Trump’s supporters keep pouring money into his pocket

Time magazine journalists Brian Bennett and Chris Wilson document how Trump has “turned January 6 [2021] into a windfall with his big lie (https://time.com/6133251/donald-trump-january-six-anniversary). The article was published on January 6, 2022, the anniversary of the capitol assault. Here’s some of what they report.

“For months, fundraising emails from Trump that claim that the 2020 election was ‘rigged and stolen’ have pointed readers to a bright red button that reads DONATE TO SAVE AMERICA. Trump’s political machine raked in at least $50 million in the six months that followed the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission, an unusually high figure for a defeated former President during his first year out of office and nearly eight times what Trump raised in outside funding while seeking the GOP nomination in 2015.”

Trump’s influence over his Base, has given him the opportunity to dominate the Republican Party

Republicans in elected office or candidates who have hopes of winning elections must not ever criticize Trump, his policies, or take issue with the Big Lie. They must please Trump or suffer his revenge. In this regard, Trump’s power has grown since the attempted coup of January 6, 2021. Bennett and Wilson (cited in previous section) give the following examples.

“As Trump and his allies have used Jan. 6 to raise money and woo voters, they have also leveraged it to weed out GOP members critical of Trump’s actions that day. After U.S. Representative Peter Meijer of Michigan voted to impeach Trump for trying to overturn the election result and staying silent for hours while his supporters violently laid siege to the Capitol, Trump called him a “RINO” (“Republican in name only”) and endorsed a primary challenger. Trump also endorsed a challenger against Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington State, who voted in favor of his second impeachment and said Trump encouraged “would-be assassins” with his remarks at a rally before the attack. (Trump was acquitted by the Senate in the impeachment trial – [by a Republican minority vote])”

“Lawmakers’ reactions to the attack have become a personal loyalty test: at least six Republicans who have criticized the rioters have been targeted for primary challenges by candidates loyal to Trump. Members of Congress who supported the House investigation into the attempted insurrection have been featured in critical ads by pro-Trump groups. ‘Sometimes there are consequences to being ineffective and weak,’ Trump said in May of the ‘wayward Republicans’ who voted for the congressional probe to move forward. Trump’s office did not respond to requests for comment.”

“After Representative Nancy Mace, a Republican from South Carolina, voted on Oct. 21 in favor of holding former Trump adviser Stephen Bannon in contempt of Congress for failing to cooperate with the House investigation into Jan. 6, Drain the DC Swamp again went on a spending spree. On Dec. 13, the group dropped at least $14,000 for five different ads on Facebook and Instagram calling Mace ‘anti-Trump’ and ‘a disgrace.’ The ads appeared more than 450,000 times, reaching an audience largely over the age of 55, per the Facebook Ad Library.”

In line with these data, Igor Derysh gives examples of the extremist candidates running in some upcoming 2022 Republican primaries (https://truthout.org/articles/gops-2022-candidates-could-push-the-party-even-further-into-extremism).

Where does the country stand now?

The society appears to be irreconcilably divided, reflecting competing and deeply-historically rooted conceptions of U.S. history as well as a host of current and conflicting cultural values and economic interests.

Reasons to be hopeful

#1 – The majority of Americans don’t believe the big lie

Fortunately, the majority of American have rejected the lies streaming out of the Trump and his co-conspirators. Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin reports on a recent Associated Press-NORC poll showing [that] “Some 57 percent say former president Donald Trump deserves ‘a great deal’ or ‘quite a bit’ of the blame; that number grows to 70 percent when we include respondents who think Trump was moderately to blame.” And: “Even 4 in 10 Republicans say he bears at least a moderate amount of responsibility. It’s still mind-blowing that 60 percent of Republicans say Trump bears little or no responsibility; that number, however, is 11 points lower than it was a year ago” (https://washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/01/05/polling-jan-6-trump-blame).

 Dan Balz, Scott Clement, and Emily Guskin, also find similar results in other recent polls (https://washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/01/01/post-poll-january-6). They refer to findings from a Washington-Post-University Poll. Here are some examples.

“Overall, 60 percent of Americans say Trump bears either a ‘great deal’ or a ‘good amount’ of responsibility for the insurrection, but 72 percent of Republicans and 83 percent of Trump voters say he bears ‘just some’ responsibility or ‘none at all.’”

“…the Post-UMD survey finds that 68 percent of Americans say there is no solid evidence of widespread [voter] fraud [in the 2020 presidential election] but 30 percent say there is.

“Big majorities of Democrats (88 percent) and independents (74 percent) say there is no evidence of such irregularities, but 62 percent of Republicans say there is such evidence. That is almost identical to the percentage of Republicans who agreed with Trump’s claims of voter fraud a week after that Capitol attack, based on a Washington Post-ABC News poll at the time.”

#2 – There are 24 States that have improved access to voting in 2021

(https://democracydocket.com/news/these-24-states-improved-access-to-voting-this-year). This source, The Democracy Docket, reports that the 24 states “took steps to make voting easier, enacting reforms like universal mail voting, expanding access for people with disabilities and banning prison gerrymandering.” The 24 states include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware,  Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Vermont Virginia, and Washington.

#3 – There are reasonable reforms being proposed, but it all depends on large Democratic turnouts in 2022

Critics of Trump, from moderates to leftists, argue that, more than anything, there must be education and political mobilization of Democratic voters and their supporters – and encouraged to vote for candidates who stand for meaningful change. When appropriate, some say reach out to Republicans who also see the need for reform and find ways to work with them, though there are few Republicans will to buck Trump. In the final analysis, it all revolves around whether voters will be willing and able to cast their ballots and have them fairly counted in the 2022 and 2024 elections, despite Republican efforts to suppress the votes and to control how votes are counted in swing states, such as, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Nevada. Mark Bowden and Matthew Teague document in great detail how Republicans have worked to change voting rules to favor their party. See their book, The Steal: The Attempt to Overturn the 2020 Election and The People Who Stopped It.

What reforms? Many urge the need to end the filibuster in the Senate. Replace the Electoral College with a system that chooses presidential candidates on the basis of the popular vote. Get money out of politics at the federal level by supporting public funding of political campaigns or at least have laws that require the public disclosure of political contributions. Pass the voting right bills stalled in the Senate. Encourage people to run for elected office at all levels of the political system.

The following views of the New York Times editorial board reflects the reformist approach (https://nytimes.come/2020/01/01/opinion/january-6-attack-committee.html). Here’s what the Board recommends.

(1) “Republican leaders could help by being honest with their voters and combating the extremists in their midst. Throughout American history, party leaders, from Abraham Lincoln to Margaret Chase Smith to John McCain, have stood up for the union and democracy first, to their everlasting credit.”

(2) Democrats in the U.S. Senate must end the filibuster at least for voting rights legislation.

(3) “Americans of all stripes who value their self-government must mobilize at every level — not simply once every four years but today and tomorrow and the next day — to win elections and help protect the basic functions of democracy. If people who believe in conspiracy theories can win, so can those who live in the reality-based world.”

(4) Above all, “we should stop underestimating the threat facing the country. Countless times over the past six years, up to and including the events of Jan. 6, Mr. Trump and his allies openly projected their intent to do something outrageous or illegal or destructive. Every time, the common response was that they weren’t serious or that they would never succeed. How many times will we have to be proved wrong before we take it seriously? The sooner we do, the sooner we might hope to salvage a democracy that is in grave danger.”

Is it too late?

Journalist Thomas B. Edsall addresses this question by consulting authoritative sources and communicating with experts

(https://nytimes.com/2021/12/15/opinion/republicans-democracy-minority-rule.html).

He opens his column with these words: “Political analysts, scholars and close observers of government are explicitly raising the possibility that the polarized American electoral system has come to the point at which a return to traditional democratic norms will be extremely difficult, if not impossible.” He then cites authoritative sources that have voiced this concern.

“The endangered state of American politics is the dominant theme of eight articles published by the National Academy of Sciences on Tuesday, with titles like ‘Polarization and tipping points’ and ‘Inter-individual cooperation mediated by partisanship complicates Madison’s cure for ‘mischiefs of faction.’”

He continues: “The academy is not alone. On Dec. 6, The Atlantic released ‘Trump’s Next Coup Has Already Begun,’ by Barton Gellman, and ‘Are We Doomed? To head off the next insurrection, we’ll need to practice envisioning the worst,’ by George Packer.” And: “On Dec. 10, The Washington Post published “18 Steps to a Democratic Breakdown.”

In the article he quotes five experts. For example, Edsall quotes Zack Beauchamp, a senior correspondent at Vox: “‘We are experiencing failures on both the elite and mass public level,’ he wrote, as Republican elites “have chosen to normalize the violence committed by their extreme right flank on Jan. 6.”

“The activist anti-democratic Trump wing of the Republican Party, committed to avoiding at nearly any cost a political system dominated by an Election Day majority of racial and ethnic minorities, women, and social and cultural liberals, has adopted an aggressive strategy to preserve the political power of white people, especially heteronormative white Christians.”

The experts also replied to a series of questions posed by Edsall. They refer to a potential vicious cycle moving the political system to a place where “extremist representatives become party leaders and are in a position to “punish moderates in their party by backing more extreme candidates in primaries.” The movement toward extremism can at the same time be facilitated by other parts of the political process, “interest groups, right-wing media, donors.”

Edsall concludes his article by citing an Aug. 3-Sept. 7 CNN survey of 2,119 people that “demonstrates the differing ways Democrats and Republicans are responding to the emerging threats to democracy.” He continues:

“Far higher percentages of Republicans, many of them preoccupied by racial and tribal anxiety, believe “American democracy is under attack” (75 percent agree, 22 percent disagree) than Democrats (46 percent agree, 48 percent disagree).

“Republicans are also somewhat more likely to believe (57-43) than Democrats (49-51) “that, in the next few years, some elected officials will successfully overturn the results of an election in the United States because their party did not win.”

“This level of anxiety is in and of itself dangerous, all the more so when it masks the true aim of America’s contemporary right-wing movement, the restoration and preservation of white hegemony. It is not beyond imagining that Republicans could be prepared, fueled by a mix of fear and provocation, to push the nation over the brink.”

Concluding thoughts

American democracy hangs on a thread. Trump has significant influence, if not control, over the Republican Party. He has energized Republican operatives and grassroots groups everywhere to engage in efforts to diminish or marginalize their Democratic opponents. The Democrats in the Senate are currently unable to obtain the votes to overcome Republican obstruction. Legislation that would advance voter’s rights and social infrastructure bills, already passed by the House of Representatives, are stalled because two Democratic Senators have, so far, refused to give their support to overcome the filibuster.

If the Senate Democrats fail in these endeavors, and if the economy is not doing well and the pandemic continues, there is a chance that many centrist, independent, and moderate Democratic voters will not vote or even vote for Republican candidates. In such an eventuality, Republicans would win back control of one or both houses of the Congress as well as governorships and other state and local elected positions in 2022, and lay the groundwork for a return of Trump to the White House in 2024.

Richard L. Hasen is the author of several books about elections and democracy. In 2020, he proposed a 28th Amendment to the Constitution to defend and expand voting rights. On January 7, 2022, he published an article in the New York Times titled “No One Is Coming to Save Us From the ‘Dagger at the Throat of America’” (https://nytimes.com/2022/01/07/opinion/trump-democracy-voting-jan-6.html). It’s fitting to end this post with what he concludes in the article.

If the officially announced vote totals [in 2022 and 2024] do not reflect the results of a fair election process, that should lead to nationwide peaceful protests and even general strikes.

One could pessimistically say that the fact that we even need to have this conversation about fair elections and rule of law in the United States in the 21st century is depressing and shocking. One could simply retreat into complacency. Or one could see the threats this country faces as a reason to buck up and prepare for the battle for the soul of American democracy that may well lay ahead. If Republicans have embraced authoritarianism or have refused to confront it, and Democrats in Congress cannot or will not save us, we must save ourselves.”